'Betto', c 1895.

'Betto', c 1895.
3 5 c m
actual image size: 32cm x 27cm


Hand-coloured photograph of the back of a heavily-tattooed man called Betto, taken by an unknown photographer in Japan. Japanese irezumi or tattoos traditionally cover large areas of the body such as the back. Tattoos are frowned on by the Japanese as they are associated with criminal yakuza or the lower classes. From 1720 the tattooing of criminals was made an official punishment, replacing the amputation of the nose and ears. Japanese photographs produced during the late nineteenth century were often hand-coloured. In style and content they closely resembled popular ukiyo-e woodblock prints. The photograph is from an album, possibly by Kusakabe Kimbei (1841-1934) who worked in Yokahama from 1885 to 1912.

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© National Museum of Science & Media / Science & Society Picture Library

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