The History of Tattoo Part 5: Japan

The History of Tattoo: Japan

I kind of gave away this information in the title already, but in courtesy of those of you who missed it: this is my fifth article on this subject and I’ll concentrate on the tattoo history of Japan.

The last article I published in this series was in January 2014. My plan back then was to publish the next one (the one you’re reading now) in April 2014, but that clearly didn’t happen. Well, as I’ve mentioned in some of my previous articles, they were originally written for a tattoo chain. Many years have passed since my original Norwegian article was published, so I had to re-write and update the info. What was originally just a short passage in an article, has now turned into this elaborate piece of reading. For those of you who wishes to read more, links to my previous articles, further reading and sources are provided.

In Japan there are several forms of tattooing, from the old bamboo techniques (tebori) to the modern machine tattooing (kikaibori), but they’re all covered by the Japanese word Irezumi (入れ墨).

A Small Vocabulary
 "Irezumi" (入れ墨, 入墨, 紋身, 刺花, 剳青, 黥 or 刺青) in Japanese, meaning "insert ink".
 "bunshin" meaning "decorating the body".
 "the Yakuza" (ヤクザ) - the mafia, the organized crime of Japan.
 "Horimono" - full body tattoo.
 "bokkei" - (or bokukei, meaning punishment by tattooing).

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Ocscarshall Slott 2015

On Saturday 12.09.2015, the annual National Photo Walk (I’ll refer to it as NPW2015 from now on) was held in Norway. Anders Beer Wilse was a guy with a camera that lived in the old days.

Anders Beer Wilse - Ocscarshall Slott 1847. Bygdøy, Oslo. Norsk Folkemusem.

Anders Beer Wilse – Ocscarshall Slott 1847. Bygdøy, Oslo. Norsk Folkemusem.

At some point in 1847, Anders decided to bring his gear and head out to Bygdøy, a peninsula in Oslo, where he photographed Ocscarshall Slott (Oscarhall Castle). Then, much later, someone invented the internet and after that again, Norsk Folkemusem (Norwegian Folk Museum) decided to post his photos on their website. If Anders was alive today, he probably would have been a passionate photo blogger with a boring, normal job.

Approximately 168 years after Anders, I brought my camera and headed out to Bygdøy for the NPW2015. The theme of NPW2015 was “My Saturday”, but as a side-mission/bonus-mission we could walk in Anders’ footsteps and replicate his stuff. The image that I shot, is part of my «Then & Now»-series. You can check out my previous entries by following the tag: «Then & Now»

Cardinal Guzman - Ocscarshall Slott 2015. Bygdøy, Oslo.

Cardinal Guzman – Ocscarshall Slott 2015. Bygdøy, Oslo.

Oscarhall was probably someone’s happy place at some point…




Thoughts on the Lunar Eclipse September 2015

Finally I got to experience an astronomical event too...

Finally I got to experience an astronomical event too…

Finally I got to experience an astronomical event too…

Finally I got to experience an astronomical event too.
That’s because it was visible from my window and all I had to do, was to get up in the middle of the night and look outside.

Usually, when an astronomical event occurs, I find out about the day after, when the whole internet is packed full of info: The news sites write about it, social media is buzzing.
“Oooh, the astronomical event last night was so amazing.”“Yeah, I know, I got eyegasms just looking at it.”
#hey, did you see it man?”
NOOO! I didn’t! Stop bothering me about it! Why are you telling me now?!?

Then there’s the times that I do know about it before it happens but, then you have all these rules to follow.
Impossible, weird, psychotic rules.
“Yes, it’s visible from your city/area, but:”

– You’ll have to walk 327 kilometers into the dark forest.
– Make sure no one sees you on the way there.
– It has to be totally dark where you’re at.
– You have to be very silent, so that you don’t scare the moon, the meteor shower (or whatever the astronomical event is)

Then, other times you can see the event, but you’re not allowed
to look at it. I mean, come on. How stupid is that?
That’s like the weirdest strip club rule: You can see, but you can’t look”

– In order to see this astronomical event, you must wear
some expensive, dumb looking special made glasses. You can use these glasses now and then again on the next event, 242 years from now. If you can afford to buy these glasses, you can make your own out of a baby dolphins liver and a moose head. – You’ll need the baby dolphins consent, but the moose head you can just go and grab from a moose out in the forest.

Anyway. Thanks Moon for putting on a show with the Sun and the Earth last night. I liked it, even if it meant that I had to get up in the middle of the night. Greetings from Max @

full moon / super moon

full moon / super moon

The History of Tattoo – Part 3: The Indians

The History of Tattoo by

The History of Tattoo by

Originally this was written as a school assignment about Body Art Among the Natives of America. If I’d followed a chronological order this article should have been published in between my previous two articles (you’ll find them both here:, but it simply didn’t cross my mind until afterwards…
From my first article in this series you’ll might remember (or you can look it up) that we, through archeological evidence can trace tattooing in Polynesia back to as early as 2000 BCE. You’ll also remember the stories about Captain James Cook and his crew and how they adopted the Tahitian word “ta-tu” or “tatau” when describing this practice. We also had a look at the early American history of tattoo, but I skipped the earlier part about the American history of tattoo – the one about the Indians (today more politically and geographically correct known as Native Americans).
This is the longest article in this series so far and it’s almost like a long list of cultural features among the different tribes and their tattoo techniques. I had to leave out a lot of information about the different tribes and the customs, but if you’re interested you can find more info in the link section.

As many of you already know I’ve asked readers for submissions of tattoo photos and people have sent me their pictures, but for this article I naturally had to find illustrations online (none of my readers are 1800’s native americans…) In the next couple of articles we’ll be looking at the history of tattoo in modern times and then I’ll use readers photos as illustrations.

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Snowflakes & Science

One of Wilson A Bentley's numerous photos of snow crystals

One of Wilson A Bentley’s numerous photos of snow crystals. Photo borrowed from: Smithsonian Institute

Now that it is mid-winter and the snow has spread like a carpet over large parts of the world, I believe the timing is just about right to take a second look at the beautiful snow crystals and their history. In the history of snowflakes, we also find a story about the good, thorough, scientific investigation, where empirical data – evidence – is being painstakingly collected:

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Santa’s Definitely Got A Brand New Bag for these people.

The holiday spirits are upon us. People love the holidays and can’t wait to start celebrating – there’s a spike in church visits during Christmas and for the merchants the christmas celebrations can turn their accounts into surplus: the stores are all ramped up for Christmas and the decorations are out from floor to ceiling. In the spirit of the season, we gather the people we love the most — your spouse, your friends, your kids & families — and enjoy the most wonderful time of the year. For both kids & adults Christmas comes with great anticipation, but for these two…? 

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The History of Tattoo Part 1: Polynesia & New Zealand

The History of Tattoo - Part 1: Polynesia & New Zealand

The History of Tattoo – Part 1: Polynesia & New Zealand

The History of Tattoo, Part 1: Polynesia & New Zealand:

In order to elaborate further on the subject The History of Tattoo (and how it reached such popularity in the West), we must first take a look at the explorers colonization and the missionary activities in the Pacific during the 17th and 18 century. Tattooing existed in Europe prior to the colonialists encounters with local people in Polynesia. Christian pilgrims, for example, had tattoos as souvenirs and confirmation of their belief, tattoos they had got on pilgrimages to the Holy Land as far back as the 16th century. Also the Celts practiced tattooing pre-Roman conquests.

Through archaeological evidence we can trace tattooing in Polynesia back to as early as 2000 BCE, and such evidence has been found on all the islands. Captain James Cook, a European explorer who sailed with the British navy, was the first who reported about Polynesian tattoo. This was in 1769, when he “discovered” Tahiti and in 1778 when he met Hawaiians. Cook and his crew wrote and made notes on subsequent trips, and Cook was the first Westerner to adopt the Tahitian word “ta-tu” or “tatau” when he described this practice (before that tattooing was referred to as dots and marks).

The tattoos they recorded includes lines, stars and other geometric designs, as well as scenes containing animals and humans, and the tattoos were worn by both women and men. By the time of the first European contact the motives was primarily linear and most likely had a genealogical and a protective function. Already in 1784, Cooks crew laid themselves before the natives needles to get tattooed, and unknowingly they therefore had a key role in bringing tattooing to Europe.

Wikimedia Commons: Maori Moko, scanned from John Rutherford: The White Chief (pre-1923)

Wikimedia Commons: Maori Moko, scanned from John Rutherford: The White Chief (pre-1923)

19th century voyages noted that the designs now included, in addition to plants and animals that were previously registered: rifles, cannons, dates and words in memory of deceased chiefs. These newer designs were probably introduced to the Polynesians by Cook’s crew. At this time, Polynesians were also tattooed by Western tattoo artists who worked on ships, where they used the indigenous’ technology.
After the Hawaiians adopted Western weapons, their tattoos, now influenced by Westerners, became exclusively decorative, and they were no longer required for protection. Without this early cross-contamination, it is doubtful that the tattoo would be re-established in Europe or that it would be perceived as anything other than some sort of primitive characteristics.
Captain Cook’s first visit to New Zealand was in 1769, and on that journey the ships own illustrator (Sydney Parkinson) drew pictures of the native tattoo – Moko. Moko is the linear facial tattoos that are worn by Maori men and women as a sign of status as well as association.
The Maori had a long tradition in which they preserved the deceased nobility’s tattooed heads, it is assumed that this was to keep the deceased’s memory alive. The heads were also seen as sacred, because they were of the opinion that the heads continued to contain the deceased’s Tapu, or magical qualities. In 1770, a mere year after the initial contact, the Europeans interest in these heads led to a head-to-arms trade that lasted until 1831 when it was banned by the colonial authorities.
This trade turned particularly scandalous during the tribal wars in the 1820s, the European demand for tattooed heads was at a historically high, and prisoners of war were at this time tattooed, beheaded and their heads were sold to European traders. As the sale of heads increased, the Maoris stopped preserving their friends heads, so that they would not fall into the hands of unscrupulous Europeans. For a period wearing a Moko actually meant that you risked being beheaded and that your head was sold to European traders.

Full facial moko, scetched by Sydney Parkinson, 1769. Wikimedia Commons

Full facial moko, scetched by Sydney Parkinson, 1769. Wikimedia Commons

Post-European contact, Moko was associated with Maori culture as a way for the natives of New Zealand to stand out from the Europeans who had settled there. In addition to the tattoos in Hawaii and Tahiti, Maori tattoos were also influenced by European contact.
Originally Maori tattoos were applied by cutting the skin and then rubbing the ink into the open wounds. After the Europeans arrived, sailors brought metal to the Maori, which put them in a position to adopt the stick method that was found in other parts of Polynesia.
European explorers also affected the tattoo culture in other parts of Polynesia.
The motives which originally contained detailed linear patterns, moved towards big, wide, black tattooed areas.
Despite all this the most lasting consequence of the contact between European explorers and Polynesian tattooing, was not stylistically. While this contact resulted in the re-introduction of tattooing in the West, it also led to the destruction of Polynesian tattooing through missionary activities. The assignments of these explorers was, after all, to learn about these “primitive” cultures and to pave the way for later civilization of these communities through the missionaries, who banned both tattooing, polygamy and other practices that were seen as uncivilized.
«Living tradition»

Moko, intricate patterns artistically tingled and carved on the body, even in the face – including eyelids – has a long tradition among the Maoris. It was a magical and religious art of the chiefs and warriors, but also women were decorated. Moko also created sexual power. Now, extensive moko on the face is only for the bravest, but large decorations elsewhere on the body is experiencing a renaissance in line with the renewed cultural and ethnic pride.
– The art of Maori Tattooing

Punk and neo-tribal body art, Daniel Wojcik, University Press of Mississippi
Bodies of inscription, Margo DeMello, Duke University Press, Durham&London 2000
Skin Shows – the art of tattoo, Chris Wroblewski, Virgin Books

This was the first post in The History of Tattoo and later I will translate and publish the rest of the History of Tattoo, an article that I originally wrote on Norwegian for a tattoo chain. I’ll also update the article(s) and add some new stuff.

In the meantime you can read Tattoo Artist Magazines’ article on Horitomo ( I will cover Japanese tattoo history in a later article), or some of these articles:

Related articles

More about the history of tattoo: