Collection of Tattooed Human Skins

Dr. Masaichi Fukushi was a medical pathologist born in 1878 who, because of his study of signs (such as warts and blemishes) on human skin in 1907, became interested in the tattoo by discovering that it was possible to more easily compare movement of the pigment of the signals by means of the study of the movement of the pigment applied in tattooed skins. He further discovered that needle-penetrated skin prevented the recurrence of syphilis on newly tattooed skins – which further increased his interest in the art of tattooing.

In 1920, Dr. Fukushi accepted a position at Mitsui Memorial Hospital in downtown Tokyo where he had contact with several people tattooed in the traditional Japanese mold. The Mitsui hospital was a charity that served the lower classes, and as the tattooed died from illness or old age, Fukushi performed the autopsies and preserved their skins. After spending some time in Germany, the doctor returned to Japan to work at Nippon Medical University, where he continued to research pigments on the skin and the congenital growth of signs and warts, returning to study tattooed skins.

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At the university, he developed a method of treatment and preservation specifically of the dermal layer that contained the tattoo, being able to stretch them and put them in overlapping frames with glasses, enabling later medical research could also be done.

Fukushi’s project had the full cooperation of the tattooed, with whom he maintained good relations and shared the regret that works done so meticulously were lost with the death of the bearer. The doctor even came to help financially those who could not finish their tattoos, paying to complete their locks! In return, he had the right to get the skin of the individual after he died – a derisory charge since many tattooed were willing to donate their skins willingly and would do anything not to deal with the disgrace and humiliation of living with an incomplete tattoo! With his attitude, Fukushi became extremely respected and admired among the great Japanese masters of the tattoo, being invited, even, to be a jury in conventions.

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In the years 1927 and 1928, Masaichi Fukushi dedicated himself to the spread of his work in the West, offering courses and lectures on pigmentation, as well as on the history and process of the Japanese tattoo. During his travels, an unfortunate case occurred in 1928 in Chicago, USA: one of the trucks containing tattooed skins belonging to the doctor was stolen and never seen again, although a generous reward was offered to those returning the carried artifacts.

Throughout his life, the doctor cataloged more than 2000 drawings, along with detailed information on the “owners” of tattoos and their skins, in addition to having collected more than 3000 photos. Unfortunately, most of its documentations were destroyed in 1945 during the bombing of Tokyo in World War II, which left the university’s buildings in ruins. However, the skin specimens were stored elsewhere, remaining intact.

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In the 1940s and 1950s, Fukushi’s research and Japanese tattooing even appeared in magazine and newspaper articles, including two editions of the American magazine Life, one on March 11, 1946, and another on April 3, 1950!

Custody of the doctor’s collection of tattooed skins passed into the hands of his son, Katsunari Fukushi, who, having visited several studios with his father when he was just a boy, eventually followed in his footsteps, becoming a pathologist who devoted himself to study cancer and a lover of Japanese tattoo art. He also came to preserve preserving tattooed skins, adding more than twenty copies to the collection. Curiously, father and son did not even get tattoos themselves.

Katsunari wrote and published several articles on the subject, as well as chapters for the books “Japanese Tattooing Color Illustrated” (1972) and “Horiyoshi’s World” (1983), in which he describes his father’s work and his passion for the art on the skin. Also in the publication “Tattoo Time Vol. 4 – Life & Death Tattoos” (issue 1, 1987), produced and edited by Don Ed Hardy , there is an excellent article by Katsunari titled “Remains to be Seen” (in a literal translation, “Remains/Relics to be Seen”).

It is believed that the University of Tokyo has 105 pictures containing the tattooed skins, most of them being full body locks! The university’s medical department is not open to the public, but appointments are eventually allowed, from doctors and researchers, to visit the exhibition.

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Here are some links so you can read about it on your own:

Masaichi Fukushi: Another kind of skin doctor [Small Fun Facts]

Dr. Masaichi Fukushi and His Collection of Body Art [Confessions of a Funeral Director]

One thought on “Collection of Tattooed Human Skins

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  1. A very creepy yet somewhat innocent desire to preserve tattoos of demised people due to the love of tattoo art, which is popular especially in Japanese culture which was portrayed well by Yakuza franchise. It’s nice to see his son studying about cancer and trying to preserve the legacy of his father. The tattoo museum, if the Govt. creates one, would be one of the things to put on a ‘must visit places’ list if anyone travels to Japan for tourism. Till then only researchers and doctors can visit, which could be because they fear that public will destroy or affect the preserved tattoos through unnecessary controversy.Yet another well written article, Sociall3butterfly! I am enjoying these real life creepy documentary type articles a lot. Keep it up.

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