The following photographic-rich article features artwork and creative, behind-the-stage stories of Takeshi Yamada’s original Japanese Samurai Warrior’s Ceremonial Reincarnation Masks. This manuscript was produced by Dr. Eriko N. Bond, an active art critic and author in New York City, as told by Yamada and edited by Diane, M. Taros Deborah Zingale. Photographs were taken by Takeshi Yamada.



 “Takeshi Yamada’s sublime Japanese horseshoe crab warrior masks

are closer to the golden mask of King Tutankhamen in Egypt

than to the Shrunken Human Head of Jivaro Indians.”

Abraham Morris



This article features art and behind-the-scenes stories of Takeshi Yamada’s original Japanese samurai warrior ceremonial reincarnation masks. Today, his horseshoe crab gaffs and artworks are essential parts of Yamada’s traveling circus sideshows, fine art exhibitions, interactive public fine art performances, and art events. These unique and distinctive works did not come into existence suddenly. In fact, this particular art is deeply rooted in Yamada’s bloodline, which goes back many centuries in Japan.


 (left) Mask of King Tutankhamen (Egyptian pharaoh, reigned from 1347 to 1337 BCE);

gold and inlaid stones, Cairo Museum, Egypt. (middle) Shrunken Human Head on pedestal; mixed

media including goat skin by Takeshi Yamada (collection of Museum of World Oddities in Florida)

(right) Takeshi Yamada’s Samurai Warrior Ceremonial Reincarnation Mask #8, acrylic on horseshoe crab, 2002



Japanese Samurai Warrior Ceremonial Reincarnation Masks

Takeshi Yamada started creating a series of mysterious and powerful masks on the carcasses of horseshoe crabs collected at Coney Island Beach shortly after purchasing a home by the beach in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, New York. Yamada considers these works “simulations of reverse engineered ancient religious artifacts”. Yamada originally created these as “gaffs” (man-made specimen/artifacts exhibited at American circus sideshows) of artifacts excavated from the ruins of an ancient civilization that blossomed at the Palace of Ocean (a Pagan temple enshrining the Sea Goddess) in Coney Island. He received his sublime vision after discovering numerous horseshoe crabs at the beach of Coney Island Creek in 2002. He named the area Palace of Ocean. Shortly after this, Yamada also discovered the largest spawning beach of horseshoe crabs in New York City. According to Yamada’s horseshoe crab research journal, he recorded over 500 horseshoe crabs on this beach in one hour, in August of 2003. Yamada named the area Warriors’ Beach.


Since 1984 (only one year after moving to the United States), Yamada created many commissioned circus sideshow gaffs professionally for amusement parks, theater companies, circus sideshows and private collectors. Yamada revitalized the old concept of the circus sideshow by introducing modern art history, and art movements such as super realism (hyper-realism, ultra realism), conceptual art, and simulationism (neogeo).


For this author, it seems Yamada created his own version of the mysterious mask as a counterpart to one of the most famous circus sideshow gaffs called “Shrunken Human Head”. The faces of finely crafted human dolls and masks create very strong mental and emotional impressions in most people. This is especially true when the three-dimensional human face has a unique and dramatic history behind it. Here is what Yamada wrote about the shrunken human head on display at Takeshi Yamada’s Museum of World Wonders in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York.


Shrunken Human Head


Other common names are Tsantsa (by Shuar people) and Amazonian Shrunken Human Trophy Head


The traditional and authentic Shrunken Human Head is an artifact consisting of a mummified intact human face and scalp. For centuries, the manufacturing of shrunken heads was the specialty of a number of ethnic groups that practiced headhunting, most notably the Jivaro Indians (now called the Shuar) of present day  Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru. Among the Shuar, shrunken heads are called tsantsa. The process of preparing a human head for the shrinking process involved a sort of tanning. The skull was removed from the head. Fat from the flesh of the head was removed. The flesh was then boiled in water in which a number of herbs containing tannins were steeped, then dried with hot rocks and sand, while being molded by the preparer to retain its human features. The eyes and lips were sewn shut, and various decorative beads were added to the head. The shrunken head was roughly the size of a fist.


The practice of making shrunken heads originally had religious significance (like mummified trophy heads produced in ancient Japan and China). The heads were kept as trophies to show the successful defeat of an enemy, and were believed to harness the spirits of those enemies, compelling them to serve the shrinker.


The manufacturing of the human shrunken head and its culture was terminated when the Peruvian and Ecuadorian governments outlawed the practice. The largest collection of authentic shrunken heads in the United States is on display at Ye Old Curiosity Shop in Seattle, Washington, USA, featuring seven heads. It also houses the smallest shrunken head in the world which is about the size of a tennis ball.




  (left) Shrunken Human Head on pedestal by Takeshi Yamada (collection of Museum of World Oddities in Florida)

  (right) The “Cabinet of Curiosity with a variety of circus sideshow gaffs by Takeshi Yamada on display at the local

      sideshow company in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York in 2005. His Shrunken Human Head is in

      the far right on the wooden pedestal. Over 3,000 people paid (ticket was $1) and saw his sideshow there.


For the Jivaro Indians, creating a shrunken human head meant preserving their trophy by manipulating the condition of its substance. They believed that even the body of a defeated enemy, when preserved correctly, would keep radiating life force, thus enriching its owner. This concept is remarkably similar to that which underlay the creation of ancient Egyptian mummies. The Egyptians believed that the active soul/ life that escaped from the corpse could be preserved in a different plane of existence if the corpse was preserved in good condition. By the same token, Takeshi Yamada manipulates the carcasses of horseshoe crabs to preserve their souls because according to Japanese mythology these are believed to be reincarnated Japanese samurai warriors who fought and died courageously. Born the son of a traditional samurai family and given the name Takeshi (samurai warrior) in Japan, the horseshoe crab has been a very special creature to Yamada since he was a child. Samurai warriors’ military government ruled Japan during 1333 and 1868. No form of government lasted longer, thus samurai warrior clans belonged to the ruling class, and developed unique, distinctive, and proud culture, art, and heritage in Japan. 


Yamada’s horseshoe crab-inspired works were exhibited at many educational, cultural, and commercial institutions across the nation. Examples are: Long Island University, Williamsburg Art & Historical Center, Salt Marsh Nature Center, Arsenal Gallery (New York Park and Recreational Department), Orchard Beach Nature Center, Diesel Gallery, TCG Gallery, Diesel Gallery, Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition Gallery, Brooklyn Borough Hall Gallery, Ridge Street Gallery, Photo District Gallery, Van de Plus Gallery, Ripley-Grier Dance Studios, 72nd Street Studio, Sideshow by the Seashore, Coney Island Museum, Astroland Amusement Park, local circus sideshow companies, etc.



Takeshi Yamada’s solo exhibition held at Arsenal Gallery

(NYC Department of Parks & Recreation) in Manhattan in 2003


Battle of Coney Island by Takeshi Yamada, oil/acrylic on canvas 48x72inch, 2000-2002.


Detail of Battle of Coney Island (Atlantic horseshoe crab)


The following art poem, carved on the sacred stone tablet excavated at the Palace of Ocean 5,000 years ago, predicted Yamada’s creation of horseshoe crab art and his exhibition at the Arsenal Gallery in New York City in America in 2003.


The glory of the divine ancient warriors

in the land of the Rising Sun

shall be celebrated


at the palacial arsenal

at the heart of the greatest city in the greatest nation

with the mightiest force ever built under the heaven


at the dawn of the new millenium


being lead by the son of the warrior king


When a Shrunken Human Head was created by a Jivaro Indian, it was not the artist’s intention to “express his feelings”. The final product came into existence by simply following the processes. His hands were guided by the hands of angels. By the same token, when Yamada worked on his samurai warrior mask on the carapace of the horseshoe crab, he tried to enhance the samurai warrior’s face and helmet that already existed on it. He wanted the final work to be completely separate from his own feelings or emotions. If he were a sculptor in the Middle Ages, he would have said that the statue of his subject was already there inside of the marble or wood, and all he did was release the form trapped within. Incidentally, this is exactly how Michelangelo (1475 - 1564) carved the statue of David from a great marble slab. Exactly the same can be said regarding how Unkei carved the statue of Ni-o (Heavenly King) from the sacred wood in Japan. 


Note: Unkei (1148? – 1223) was a Japanese sculptor of the Late Heian (1086–1185) and early Kamakura (1192–1333) periods who established a realistic and dynamic style of Buddhist sculpture that had an immense impact on Japanese art for many centuries.


Here are the photographs and statement of the horseshoe crab art project by Yamada.



                   #1: 15-1/2” x 7-1/2” x 2”, 2002     #2: 16” x 8-1/4” x 2”, 2002           #3: 14-3/4” x 9-1/2” x 3”, 2002



#4: 17-3/4” x 10” x 3”, 2002         #5: 15-1/2” x 9-3/4” x 3”, 2002     #6: “15-1/2 x 9-3/4” x 3”, 2002



#7: “19-1/2” x 9-3/4” x 3”, 2002             #8: 17” x 11” x 3”, 2002              #9: 17-1/2” x 9-1/4” x 3”, 2002



                #10: 19-1/2” x 10-3/4” x 3”, 2002      #11: 16-1/4” x 10” x 3”, 2002              #12: 17” x 9-3/4” x 3”, 2002



#13: “18-1/4” x 9-1/4” x 3”, 2002     #14: “18” x 9-1/2” x 3”, 2002      #15: “18” x 9-1/2” x 3”, 2002



 #16: 17” x 9-1/2” x 3”, 2002           #17: 19” x 9-3/4” x 3”, 2002       #18: 18-3/4” x 9-1/2” x 3”, 2002



#19: 20” x 10” x 3”, 2002   #20: 21-1/4” x 10-1/4” x 3”, 2002  21: 15-1/2” x 7-1/2” x 3”, 2003



#22: 13-7/8” x 7-5/8” x 2-1/5”, 2003   #23: 22-1/2” x 10” x 3”, 2003


Blue Mask 19” x10-1/4” x 3”, 20031119


Following poems were created by Takeshi Yamada about his Horseshoe Crab Warrior Masks in 2002.





For all the warriors

Who fought in the beginningless past


For all the warriors

Who strive to win over the blood battle


For all the warriors

Who are destined to fight in the infinite future,


I see you within myself


I see myself within you

So clearly


So profoundly.



Who brought honor to your houses

Who brought glory to your lords



You had no names



You had no faces




I immortalized your faces

With my deepest prayers


On the backs of Warrior’s Helmet Crabs

- Divine creatures believed to enshrine the souls of ancient warriors -

I reverently collected

From the sublime beaches

Of the greatest city

Ever built

Under the Heaven

At the beginning

Of the new millennium


My fellow warriors,


I sincerely dedicate

My artworks

To each one of your souls.


To honor your names

To honor your faces

To honor your houses


May your souls to be rested

May your faces to be remembered

May your battles to be praised

May your victories to be celebrated.


For your glorious and noble souls.


(Takeshi Yamada, August 20 - September 2, 2002)


Homage to the Horseshoe Crab


Artist’s Statement


Limulus polyphemus - Kabutogani (Warrior’s Helmet Crab in Japan; Horseshoe Crab in the United States) is a “living fossil”, and as such has outlived the most famous of fossils--the dinosaur. Only four species of horseshoe crabs remain today. One can be found on the East Coast of North America and the other three on the southeast coast of Asia. Surprisingly, they are actually more closely related to scorpions than crabs. In United States, in the ancient time, Native Americans ate the horseshoe crab and used its tail as a spear. The Founding Fathers ground the creature as a fertilizer for their cornfields. Today, a test called LAL (Limulus Amebocyte Lysate) is made of the blood cells of the horseshoe crab’s unique copper-based blue-colored blood. LAL is used worldwide to test injectable drugs and biomedical devices. All the vaccines and antibiotic drugs (including ones for AIDS) for human and animal use are tested with LAL. The eggs of the horseshoe crab are also an essential food source for shorebirds during their annual migrations. The conservation of this creature is considered to be more urgent every year in this country. It might be hard to believe, but they visit the beaches of Brooklyn, New York every spring to spawn as they have done for thousands, possibly millions of years.


As one of the Advisory Board Members of Ecological Research & Development Group Inc. (a non-profit horseshoe crab conservation organization) and the Delaware Horseshoe Crab Research Institute (which also houses a museum), I have been extensively studying and researching peoples’ association with horseshoe crabs. My focus has been comparing the different traditions concerning the horseshoe crab found in the United States with those of Japan. Unlike the United States, people’s lives are very closely associated with the horseshoe crab in my home country of Japan. For centuries, horseshoe crabs have been featured in many artworks, poems and literature. One salient example of the horseshoe crab’s importance in Japanese culture is the phrase kabutogani-no-chigiri, an expression which compares the loving, caring and committed relationship between a husband and wife to that of a pair of horseshoe crabs. In the past, fishermen considered it a good omen to harvest a pair of horseshoe crabs from their first net dropped into the ocean on the first day of the Tai (sea bream) season.


Based on the Buddhist doctrine of Rinne Tensei (reincarnation of life), the horseshoe crabs are considered the reincarnations of Japanese Samurai warriors who sacrificed their lives at battles during the Japanese Civil War (1180 - 1185 AD). Today, the horseshoe crab is an official Tennen Kinenbutsu (Natural Monument), and is cared for by the people and protected by the Japanese government. Having such reverence for these dignified creatures, it was natural that Japan built the first Horseshoe Crab museum in the world. On a personal level, I found my existence closely related to this sublime creature the Warrior’s Helmet Crab. My first name, Takeshi, means “warrior” and I was born into a respectable house of Samurai warriors in Japan.


At the beaches here in Brooklyn, New York, I have collected numerous dead horseshoe crabs. Locals find their odor offensive and ignore them or leave them alone. This leaves many carcasses for me to collect and has provided the source of inspiration for this series of artworks. In the course of creating the series, I have re-examined a variety of different mythologies of the world such as the “mermaid” in Europe, “Princess Otohime of Dragon’s Palace” in China, and the “Tale of Urashimatarou” in Japan. (In Asian countries, the dragon is the ruler of Heaven. Dragons also guard the Chinese Emperor, and are a symbol of life force and vitality. Princess Otohime is a daughter of the dragon.) I have also investigated the history and culture of Samurai warriors and the Kabuto (Samurai warrior’s helmet). Samurai warriors originated as security guards of Japanese emperors and nobles, and later they became the ruling class. Near the end of my investigations, I painted portraits of Princess Otohime of the Dragon’s Palace on the backs of horseshoe crabs as well as portraits of noble Samurai warriors. The warrior designs are inspired by Kabuto and Haniwa (clay figures buried with the emperors and kings of ancient Japan). In addition, I have produced a series of intricate pen-and-ink drawings on paper using a dead horseshoe crab’s telson (sword-like tail) as a dipping pen. I find it is truly a remarkable tool despite the fact that other artists have totally ignored using it in this creative capacity.


My artworks are vehicles to please the eyes, uplift the spirit, stir the imagination and express conviction. It is my desire to promote a greater understanding and appreciation of the importance of the global nature of the world, its people, and the bonds that mutually bind them. It is my sincere wish that my creativity and its products contribute to the advancement of the glorious culture based on the sanctity of life and true humanism.


Takeshi Yamada



American Flag

Yamada created over 250 works in many different styles by using varieties of mediums inspired by the horseshoe crabs since 2002.


Here are a few examples of variations of the theme. Yamada created half dozen of American Flags painted on the carapaces of horseshoe crabs as amulets to word off evil spit from our precious freedom. Another title for these artworks is “Face of Freedom”. 


  American flag #1, 19” x 9-4/3” x 3”, 2003 American flag #2: 19” x 9-3/4” x 3”, 2003



American flag #3, 20-1/4x9-1/2x3”, 2003     American Flag #4, 14x8x2”, 2003     American Flag #5, 14x8x2”, 2003



(Continue to part 2)



For more information regarding Takeshi Yamada’s horseshoe crab related artwork, see following websites: (over a dozen web pages)



All rights reserved by Takeshi Yamada, October 2006. Museum of World Wonders in Coney Island, 1405 Neptune Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11224, USA.     E-mail:

Special thanks to Eriko N. Bond, Abraham Morris, Lauren D. Travis, Diane M. Taros, and Deborah Zingale.



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