Japanese-style tattoos originated from the development of woodblock printing, which became popular after the release of the widely read Chinese novel, “Suikoden.” The book was a story of courage and illustrated through woodblock prints that depicted men in heroic scenes with tattoos of dragons, flowers, tigers, and other mythical beasts.
Around this time, woodblock artists began tattooing, using many of the same tools on the skin as those that were used to make the prints. These tools included chisels, gouges, and ink known as Nara ink or Nara black, which turned a bluish-green when it was tattooed into the skin.
Traditional Japanese tattoo artists train for years under a master, sometimes even living with them. They spend their time cleaning the shop, making the tools, mixing inks, and copying designs from their master’s work.
It’s difficult to find a tattoo artist with such traditional training because they don’t advertise their skills and often only take on clients through word of mouth. When an artist is eventually found, there must be an initial consultation between the artist and client regarding the details of the desired tattoo. An outline is created by hand. From that point forward, shading and coloring is completed during weekly visits.
Since tattoos are still seen as a sign of criminality in Japan, people often keep theirs hidden from the public.