Traditional Japanese Tebori tattooing involves very few tools. It is for this reason that Japanese tattoo tools can range in quality from utilitarian to highly ornate. Artists train for years to perfect the special hand techniques that enable Tebori tattoos to look the same as modern tattoos created with mechanical instruments.
The Tattoo Tool
The tattoo tool of traditional Japanese Tebori tattooing is constructed from bamboo and metal. Bamboo is crafted for the handle of the tool, and steel or other metal creates a tight bundle of needles that are fixed at one end of the tool. Bamboo is preferred over metal for handle construction; it provides strength and flexibility, which are necessary for proper hand technique during the tattooing process.
Ink in traditional Tebori tattooing is made from hand-ground sumi. Sumi is a form of activated charcoal used in a variety of applications across Japan, from purification of drinking water to calligraphy. If you don't wish to use traditionally ground sumi for tattooing, many companies manufacture the charcoal-based tattoo ink in a variety of colors.
The greatest tool in Tebori tattooing is the tattoo artist himself. The technique of tattooing by hand stands in stark contrast to the modernized Western forms of tattooing. According to Tao of Tattoos, artists trained with modern equipment hold the tattoo tool like a pencil, whereas in Tebori tattooing, the artist holds the tool in a completely different fashion. In hand tattooing, the artist dips the needles of the tattoo tool into the pool of sumi ink, then stretches the skin to be tattooed with his free hand. What follows is a rhythmic hand technique of puncturing the skin and retouching the metal needles with sumi ink, which actually does less tissue damage than that of modern tattooing equipment according to Tao of Tattoos. This is because the precision involved in Tebori is much higher than modern tattooing; overall, the skin is punctured far less.