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  • Juju Kurihara

How did they get tattoos in Edo Period?

It is said that Japan's tattoo culture started about 5000BC. Because the cray figures made around that time have tattoos on the body and the face. This is a cray figure found in Okayama prefecture and is thought to be made in the later Yayoi period (300BC-250AD).

But it was the Edo period (1603-1868) when the middle class started to become wealthier and Japan blossomed culturally. In the later Edo period, woodblock printing technique became established and printed matters such as news papers or magazine were accessible for common people.

The development of woodblock printing opened up tattoo to Japanese society. woodblock. artists started using the same tools to tattoo people. And this was the beginning of Tebori (手彫り/hand poke).

These are the tools for woodblock carving.

What tools are used for hand poke? It looks like just a stick.

The most important part is needles. In theory, the handle part can be anything, even a chopstick but most of tattoo artists create the one fits their hand nicely in order to work comfortably.

These are the tools of a Japanese tattoo artist. On the right is made of rose wood and on the left is bocote. Both are beautiful woods.

The needles are made of stainless. As they are disposable, it's not expensive but it's important that the point is sharp.

The needles are set in a cartridge. It's very important that the edge is nicely carved. Nowadays, a mould is used to aline the needles and stick together with a solder and cotton yarn. In the old time, cooked rice was used for soldering.

This is how the needles are set. Cartridges are also thrown away after a session.

Now it's ready to make a beautiful tattoo.

Tebori is a hand work and takes time to complete a pattern. However many hand poke tattoo artists say that hand poke is less painful than machine tattooing. That is because the needles enter the skin less with hand poke than the machine. Therefore, the healing period is much less when you have a hand poke tattoo. The pain is of course depends on the area of your body part too.

Now it's up to you with which method you would like to have a tattoo.


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