Guest Blog: Machine vs. Tebori
John Mack offers another guest blog post on his experience getting tattooed by Horiyoshi III over the course of nine years Check out his previous posts: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, and Part VII.
In a comment to my last post, a reader inquired about the difference between machine and the tebori (hand poke) tattooing. I was just going to tell you about that.
As for how it feels, the location matters much, much more than the method. The main sensory difference is the sound and cadence of tebori. After this video above of Horiyoshi III doing tebori winds up to full speed, I can almost feel it myself.
Horiyoshi explained that it is the result attained after about four years that makes the biggest difference. He said that a machine works best for outlining because its precise, thin line does not spread over the years while tebori does spread into soft, smooth gradients ideal for shading. He had an almost poetic way of stating it in Japanese that went something like, "The disadvantage of one method is an advantage in one application, and the disadvantage of the other method is an advantage in the other application."
Horiyoshi then commented, "You like tebori better, don't you, John-san." This man can see right through me. I guess I do like tebori, not because it feels any better, but because it's a rarer and more authentic experience that yields a superior result. Both methods use needles, and getting stuck with needles hurts.
For the past few years, Horiyoshi has used a machine exclusively. When I asked about this, he said that as one ages, it becomes difficult to perceive fast-moving objects. He dramatized by waving his hand past his face, then making a mystified expression as if he had missed something.
As you can see in the video, your skin moves around quite a bit during tebori, but with a machine, it stays relatively stationary. So, no more hand tattooing for this master.
Horiyoshi's practice is now limited to finishing existing clients' tattoos, and we all keep him really busy. As I have repeatedly witnessed, all new clients are politely referred elsewhere.