Traditional Japanese Hand Tattooing

Tebori is the traditional Japanese style of hand tattooing. It is believed to have risen to prominence in Japan during the 18th or 19th century; as professional tattooists first appeared in the capital city of Edo. Traditionally, the process is done entirely by hand; Even the crafting of the tool took on a special significance.  Steel needles were arranged in rows, and tied to a long handle of bamboo which would rest across the thumb of the tattooist’s left hand; with the end of the handle grasped in his right.

The ink was generally a charcoal based mixture that would be inserted into the skin by the forward momentum of the artist’s right arm. The method of skin penetration is similar to that of electric machine tattooing, but the difference lies in the capillary action of opening the skin; and many Tebori enthusiasts claim that the hand method does not do as much damage as is possible with a machine. Either way you look at it, Tebori is a fascinating method of tattooing that yields extremely intricate and detailed images.  If you ever get the chance to get inked in this manner by a professional, take advantage of this unique experience and do it.

1946, Tokyo, Japan ~ A Japanese tattoo artist works on the back of a woman. ~ Image by © Horace Bristol

24 Oct 1955, Tokyo, Japan ~ Tattoo: At a gathering of tattoo devotees, this man points out to his son the meanings of the designs, as well as the artistry with which the technique has been executed. One day, when the youngster grows up, he may choose to have his own body decored in the same way. American GI’s, on duty in Japan, are among those who today patronize the tattoo artists. ~ Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

1946, Tokyo, Japan ~ A Japanese tattoo artist works on a group of  Yakuza gang members. ~ Image by © Horace Bristol

1946, Tokyo, Japan — Tattooed Men at Public Bath — Image by © Horace Bristol

1946, Tokyo, Japan ~ (Left) Tattooed Bathers at a Public Bath, (Right)  A Japanese tattoo artist works on the shoulder of a  gang member ~ Images by © Horace Bristol

By: Greg Halloran