Vintage Ink: ANCIENT ART OF THE JAPANESE TEBORI TATTOO MASTERS | INK IN HARMONY

The Selvedgeyard has quickly become one of my favorite blogs for historical images and articles. I stumbled on their post ANCIENT ART OF THE JAPANESE TEBORI TATTOO MASTERS | INK IN HARMONY and had to share.

1946, Tokyo, Japan: Bathers at a Public Bath

Not only are there a ton of awesome images of traditional Japanese tattoo from the 1940s, but there are also images of preserved skin, as well as the great Japanese Masters tattooing.

From the article:

Tattooing by hand, Tebori,  requires special techniques. It should be done by puncturing the skin with the needles gently, adjusting the strength of hands. Human skin is very soft and elastic. As the needles leave the skin, I can hear the sound, shakki. If I tattoo smoothly, I can hear a rhythmical sound like “sha, sha, sha.” I dip the needles in the ink, and tattoo a line about one centimeter long. This same step is done continuously during sujibori (outlining).I keep the same speed (rhythm) to tattoo no matter what kind of designs or shapes, such as circles, squares and lines, are tattooed. I draw the outlines step by step on each part of the body, such as the shoulders, the arms and the back, and finally finish the art work on the body. Then the full body tattoo is completed.”

Check out the full article, as well as this article, which a lot of the information from the Selvedgeyard article as pulled from:

Today’s young people never understand how tough the training was. Sometimes the master yelled at me and even hit me.. To endure such treatment needs patience. Because of such unreasonable treatment, most pupils gave up and ran away from the master. Of course, I often wondered why he hit us. Although I had anger towards the master, I could not talk back. All I could do in the feudal period was to obey what the master said. I was so frustrated that I cried in bed so many times. The master sometimes slapped me without any reason. However, I found the master purposely hit me and forced me to do overwork for my mental training after I became a tattooist later on. I hated him so much during the apprenticeship. Looking back now, I am ashamed of having had such feelings towards my master.

In old days, Japanese tattooists worked at their own houses and ran business quietly (without using the ads.). They didn’t put up a sign and list telephone numbers on the book. The practice of tattooing was forbidden in Japan (until the end of World War 2). The customers used to find the tattoo shops by word of mouth.

I slept at the master’s workplace when I was a pupil. I wanted to be a great tattoo artist as soon as possible. In the middle of the night, I picked up the needles from the master’s tool box, sat cross-legged and practiced tattooing on my thigh without the ink, remembering how my master performed. I continued to practice tattooing without using the ink. I used a thick bamboo stick for sujibori (outlining), which was about 20 cm long. The edge of the stick was sharpened, and 6-7 needles were put in order and tied up by silk thread. The length of the tip of needles was 3-4 mm. I wanted to workas a tattooist soon, and practiced incising both my thighs with the bamboo stick every night after work.I did not know how to use the tattooing tools and how to adjust the angles. Sometimes I penetrated the skin very deeply with the needles, and the skin bled and swelled. I could not tattoo by using the bamboo stick as I wanted.During the daytime I did chores. If I had no work during the day, I would sit down on the left side of my master and watch his work from the distance.

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~ by K. Ritcheson on May 14, 2010.

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