31 december 2013


Tebori (手彫り) is traditional Japanese hand tattooing. Many artists praise it for its ability to create subtle gradations of tone that are difficult to achieve with a machine.

The word Tebori comes from te meaning 'hand' and hori or horu, 'to carve, sculpt or inscribe.' The word used to describe the technique of tattooing that arose in the late 18th and early 19th century in Japan, with the appearance of professional tattoo artists in the capital city of Edo.

Steel needles, usually of greater diameter and steeper shoulder than those used in the West, are arranged in rows, singly or stacked, and are tied to a long handle of bamboo. This tool is held in the right hand, with the fingers of the left used to spread the skin to be tattooed. The shaft of the tebori tool rests on the thumb of the left hand and the needles inserted by the force of forward movement of the right arm of the tattoo artist. Unlike many other forms of hand-tattooing in Asia such as Tatau or Moko, no assistants are required for tebori.

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30 december 2013

Tebori Culture

Mid 20th century, Japan - A group of traditionally tattoed gamblers. Umezu , the chief of gambling, sits among them ©Hulton-Deutsch Collection

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29 december 2013

Tattoo History


The Ainu (pronounced "eye-nu") 

"Ainu" means "human." The Ainu people regard things useful to them or beyond their control as "kamuy"(gods). In daily life, they prayed to and performed various ceremonies for the gods. These gods include : "nature" gods, such as of fire, water, wind and thunder ; "animal" gods, such as of bears, foxes, spotted owls and gram-puses ; "plant" gods, such as of aconite, mush-room and mugwort ; "object" gods, such as of boats and pots ; and gods which protect houses, gods of mountains and gods of lakes. The word "Ainu" refers to the opposite of these gods.

The Ainu, along with the Okinawa-based Ryukyu, are an indigenous population of Japan. Ainu lived

in Hokkaido, the Kurile Islands and Sakhalin, but now largely live in Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island. As of the last census Ainu populations in Hokkaido were roughly 23,000 people.

In traditional Ainu culture when a woman begins to come of age at 12-13 she begins a heavy tattooing process of her lips, legs, hands and arms. When this process has been completed somewhere around the age of 15-16 she is considered ready for marriage. Ainu culture held tattooed women to be beautiful. As Helena Burton notes on the meanings of the tattoos:

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