Interview with Ru Hwan | Tattooing in Korea

Tattooing in Korea – is it legal? Is it illegal? That would be “yes” to both questions. “What? Wait. How can it be both legal and illegal at the same time?” In this interview with Korean tattoo artist Ru Hwan, we’ll find out more.

Technically speaking, tattooing is legal in Korea (yes, this article is about South Korea of course), but you’ll need to be a licensed doctor in order to perform this type of “skin surgery”.
Now imagine yourself that you’re at the end of six years of medical studies at the university, it’s time to decide which path to choose: should you become a GP, a skin specialist, a surgeon or perhaps you should go wild and chase your childhood dream of becoming a tattoo artist?
Just like in every other country in the world, people with medical degrees don’t become tattoo artists – they become doctors – and that’s a good thing, because we all need someone who might be able to cure us when we are sick, but some of us also needs creative persons that can create art on our skin every now & then.

Graduation day at the Medical University: "Should I become a doctor or a tattoo artist?"

Graduation day at the Medical University: “Should I become a doctor or a tattoo artist?”

Continue reading

Color Outside the Lines: A Tattoo Documentary (2012)

Color Outside the Lines: A Tattoo Documentary (2012):  All cultures have ancient tattoo roots: Polynesia, Celts, Japanese, Native Americans, etc, etc. Here the other day I saw a documentary that drew historical lines from the black American community, back to legendary tattoo artist such as Sailor Jerry & Ed Hardy and their contact with Japanese artists. The 1 1/2 hour-long documentary was insightful on how ink looks different on different kinds of skin, how it was like for black Americans when they first started out in the tattoo business and how some of them (not all of them!) came from a background as scratchers.

(A scratcher is an “inexperienced, untalented, unclean and untrained tattooer”. ( Scrathcers often work from their own homes, they have no respect for the art and uses tattooing (or scratching) as an easy way to make money).


Illustration photo from MBK Tattoo Contest 2015, by

The documentary, directed by Artemus Jenkins and produced by Miya Bailey, has a number of interviews with black American tattoo old-schoolers like Jacci Gresham, plus a lot of younger artists – also some who are (or used to be) under the apprenticeship of hard-working tattoo artists.

“Color Outside the Lines is the first film that provides a deep look into the history, culture and lives of the world’s top black tattoo artists.” (YouTube)

If you’re interested in tattooing and tattoo history, I highly recommend this 1 1/2 hour documentary, which is available on YouTube:

More about tattoos in this blog:

My tattoo related Flickr Gallery:


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).

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Photos of Tattoos Wanted

Hello Dear reader/fellow blogger.
I’m writing some articles about the History of Tattoo, and I thought it would be nice to illustrate the series with images from fellow bloggers (or their friends) tattoos. Perhaps you/your friend want your tattoo featured in one of the articles?
Continue reading

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: