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Tebori Tattoo, Learn Everything About The Traditional Japanese Art

Well, Tebori is surely one of the most pure and ancient tattoo techniques in the whole world, so we needed to have a guide about this, you know.

And, on this guide, I want you to learn about:

  • What does Tebori mean?
  • Some about the technique and tools themselves.
  • Difference between electric tattoo machines and Tebori
  • Some about the Tebori’s History.
  • The main designs and its symbolism (they are similar to Japanese Tattoo, of course).
  • Some key figures in Tebori Tattoo.
  • And, of course, A LOT of Tebori tattoo designs for you.

What Does Tebori Tattoo Mean?

We want to start from scratch.

Tebori (this beautiful this kanji in Japanese 手彫り) is two different words:

  • Te (手), means “hand”.
  • Bori (彫り) means “to carve”.

And, if you move the pieces together, it is “hand carving”, because traditional Japanese methods come from the ancient wood carvers.

Yes, that’s is.

Just a first Tebori design by Horitomo


This wonderful tattoo is done by Horitomo (Kazuaki Kitamura), a wonderful tattoo artist based in State Of Grace, San José, California, and we think you should follow right now.

Not all the designs in Tebori, only colors and shadowing and, as you can see, it is a really nice example of how both techniques can be at the same tattoo design.

Some About Tebori Tools

The Tebori tool is called nomi, or just tebori-bou, basically a rod made from wood or metal with some needles at the end of it.

This needles are called “Hari (針), in Japanese, just “needle”.
Tebori tattoo is 100% manual process with some rhythmic motion of the nomi, and the difference between electric tattoo machines are quite huge.

Dragon Tebori Tattoo from Tattoobushi


Here you can see another wonderful tattoo made by mixing Tebori and electric machines.

This time, as well as the first example, the lines are made with an electric machine and the shadowing and the colors in Tebori, and the mix is just perfect.

This dragon is made by Tattoobushi, a freehand tattoo from Okinawa, in Japan, of course!

Difference Between Electric Machines and Tebori

There are some differences between Tebori and Electric Machines, in fact, almost everything is different, you know…

The first difference is the number of needles.

An average needle for an electric machine is between 9 and 13 needles at a time. In Tebori, it is between 11 and 42.

Because of this, masters in Tebori art can be as fast as modern machines.

Moreover, Tebori usually is not as painful as modern machines, and the people who get tattooed in both techniques, usually say the pain is not as intense as with electric machines.

In fact, if the Tebori artist is a real master, your skin is going to suffer less, so the tattoo heals better.

Tebori Red Flowers Tattoo With Dragon


Now, let’s move to the US to see this wonderful piece of work.

As you can see, a very traditional Tebori tattoo with some flowers, clouds, patterns and a Japanese dragon.

Just amazing.

This tattoo is done by Alex Empty (Horikin), working at Copper State Tattoo, in Phoenix, Arizona.

How much time does it take to be a Tebori master?

Of course, it depends. A lot.

But, typically, we can say between 5 and 10 years is an appropriate amount of time to reach being a master in Tebori art.

In fact, in the very first years (you know, more than one), the apprentice should be just only learning about how to prepare the ink and some about the theoretical part of this art (you know, Japanese culture, designs, colors, etc.).

Let’s Dive Into Tebori History

Not much, but, you know, it’s important to know a little bit more about Tebori art so you can learn a little bit about this tattoo style.

Tattoos are a thing in a lot of different cultures around the globe, in fact, there is some evidence from more than 2.000 years ago using tattoos, not only for decorative motives, but also for spirituality too.

A big point in Tebori was in the Asuka and Nara Periods (from 538 to 794), here, tattoos became a punishment, because it was made to mark criminals to shame them.

And this stigma is today in a lot of different parts of Japanese culture.

Then, in the Edo Period (from 1603 to 1868) tattoos were a punishment but also can be decorative too but, in the Meiji Period (1868 to 1912) tattoos were banned until after WWII, and you know, here the stigma about tattooing and Yakuza stays present.

Yakuza are the Japanese organized crime, and because of this, the stigma still persists.

Tebori Technique Doing a Dragon Tattoo


As you can see, this is the real technique of doing a dragon tattoo on the back with Tebori Art.

Wonderful, isn’t it?

We do love the piece of work itself, because we do like bold and huge designs like this one.

This tattoo is done by Yuusai Tattoo, in Kyoto, Japan.

Top 10 Tebori Designs, it symbolism and Meaning

There are a lot of different motifs and designs for Tebori tattoo, but here I want to introduce you the Top 10 and it meaning, just a couple of lines for each one, let’s do it:

  1. Dragon (Ryu) it’s always the Top1 for Japanese Tattoo and for Tebori too. Dragons meanings in Japan are protection, strength and wisdom.
  2. Koi Fish represents perseverance and determination, and it can have different colors, red for love, gold for wealth, for example.
  3. Samurai represent honor, loyalty and discipline, but just an advice, samurais were the army for the lords, not for the people. The people have another heroes.
  4. Phoenix represents immortality and rebirth, because of this are related with the fire.
  5. Tigers in Japan are about strength and protection, like dragons, and courage or guardians.
  6. Sakura are cherry blossoms, are about the nature of life and living in the moment, and talk about the fragility of beauty.
  7. Geisha is about beauty and grace, and they are usually represented with some traditional or artists stuff.
  8. Hannya Masks are the demon-like ones, the meaning is about human emotions like anger or vengeance.
  9. Japanese Waves are one of my favorites, it’s about how you cannot dominate nature.
  10. Lotus Flowers are about purity and spiritual stuff.

Tebori Complete Bodysuit


Yes, this bodysuit is done completely with Tebori tattoo, what do you think about it?

Yes, it is awesome and we are sure you can see the vibrant colors all around the skin.

This tattoo was made by Ryu Gendo, working in Tokyo, of course.

Some Woman Tebori Artists You May Follow

Yes, we know almost every single Tebori artist’s list are all men, but, you know, there are women mastering Tebori art too.

And here, we want to show you just 5 examples you may follow:

Horikiku (Haru Kitamura)

First in this list is the artist known as Horikiku, a wonderful Tebori master based in Japan.

She is well known for her designs for traditional Japanese culture and motifs like flowers or animals, and color. A lot of vibrant colors.

Horiyuki (Yuki Horikoshi)

If you are looking for a dragon, some koi fish or cherry blossoms with a modern touch, maybe Horiyuki is your artist.

In fact, Horiyuki’s personal touch is to mix the very traditional Tebori art with some modern touches.

Horiren 1st (Junko Shimada)

Horiren 1st is another one of the pioneers in woman Tebori tattoo, and she has a lot of fans, not only in Japan, but also international ones.

Moreover, Horiren 1st has a very personal style, something really hard in Tebori art, and she is focused on traditional tattooing like samurais or geishas.


Horitsuru is another woman tattooing a very traditional Tebori tattoo, and she is a complete master too, like you can see.

As well as the other women on this list, she was trained for years and years by other Tebori masters, and she can do her tattoos with lots of elegance.

Horikoi (Keiko Kitamure)

Last one on this list is Horikoi, another very representative woman in Tebori tattoo art, with a lot of contributions.

The nice point is, year by year, there are more and more woman Tebori masters tattooing, so we must celebrate it!

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