Historic Japanese Tattoo Imagery
10:24 AM
Japanese Tattoo historic.jpg
Our go-to source for historic photos, including but not limited to tattoos, is The Selvedge Yard. What's particularly cool about the site is that editor JP also puts the images in context with interesting background info.

Our most recent fave, which Pat dug up, is this post on Japanese tattooing in the 40s called:
Ancient Art of the Japanese Tebori Tattoo Masters: Ink in Harmony.

Images include the one above of "A group of traditionally tattooed gamblers," hand-tattooing (tebori) on women, and preserved tattooed skins, among other beautiful photos. They illustrate the words of legendary Japanese master Horihide, which were taken (in their entirety) from his personal story told on Here's a taste of that story:

When I was an apprentice, feudal customs still existed in Japan. The apprenticeship was one of the feudal customs called uchideshi in Japanese. Normally, pupils lived with their masters, and were trained for 5 years. After 5-year training, the pupils worked independently, and gave the masters money that he earned for one year. The one-year service was called oreiboko in Japanese, the service to express the gratitude towards the masters. The masters usually told new pupils about this system, 5-year-training and 1-year service, when they began the apprenticeship.
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.

[I chose this particular quote to shut up whiny tattoo apprentices today who think they have it so rough.]

For much more of Horihide's stories on Japanese tattooing--from apprenticeships to traditional designs to the tebori technique to tattoo thieves--go to the original article on


Our past posts on The Selvedge Yard:


Wonderful stuff. Thank you so much for sharing.

So are you implying that tatooists should hit their apprentices Marissa?
I can think of a few that deserve to be hit..........but seriously, I think that great art can't be achieved with a degree of sweat and suffering that would be enough to make most casual observers give up.

Great lession indeed!! Thanks.for writing this instructive article.

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