Once the adornment of gangsters, sailors and other members of the demimonde, tattoos today decorate the lower backs, arms and ankles of everyone from millionaire soccer players to bankers to young mums. Japan's undisputed tattoo sensei, Horiyoshi, is unimpressed with these amateurish scratchings that now abound. Born Yoshihito Nakano in 1946, he is the second tattooist to be bestowed the honorific title—the tattooist affixation Hori means engrave—in a line started by his master, the legendary tattoo artist Yoshitsugu Muramatsu, or Horiyoshi of Yokohama (Muramatsu went on to dub his son Horiyoshi II, and later Nakano was named Horiyoshi III). He also inherited the full canon of irezumi, the 200-year-old art of Japanese tattoo, his mastery of which makes him the leading expert of this esoteric tradition. At Horiyoshi's studio in Yokohama, all tattoos are done without electric needles, and his motifs are restricted to the classical repertoire of peonies, koi, tenyo (she-angels) and the like. Many of his clients—who range far beyond the stereotypical yakuza bosses—are willing to pay $20,000 for the master's specialty—a full-body tattoo, completion of which requires an hour-long session every week for up to two years. For once, it's not the artist who must suffer for his art, but the human canvas beneath his magnificent hands.