Despite all our advances in technology, the basic needling technique used to insert pigment into skin hasn’t changed all that much over time. The biggest change came when the electric tattooing machine was first patented in 1891. That technology has remained relatively stagnant since–aside from prisoners’ ad hoc redesigns, in which a cassette recorder, an electric razor, or electric toothbrush can be used as a motor. These jailed tattooists’ inventions show just what desperate lengths people will go to to turn a boring patch of bare skin into something that better expresses the self underneath.
Ancient tattooing was most widely practiced among the Austronesian people. It was one of the early technologies developed by the Proto-Austronesians in Taiwan and coastal South China prior to at least 1500 BCE, before the Austronesian expansion into the islands of the Indo-Pacific. It may have originally been associated with headhunting. Tattooing traditions, including facial tattooing, can be found among all Austronesian subgroups, including Taiwanese Aborigines, Islander Southeast Asians, Micronesians, Polynesians, and the Malagasy people. Austronesians used the characteristic hafted skin-puncturing technique, using a small mallet and a piercing implement made from Citrus thorns, fish bone, bone, and oyster shells.
The Japanese word irezumi means "insertion of ink" and can mean tattoos using tebori, the traditional Japanese hand method, a Western-style machine or any method of tattooing using insertion of ink. The most common word used for traditional Japanese tattoo designs is horimono. Japanese may use the word tattoo to mean non-Japanese styles of tattooing.