Although tattoos were considered inelegant and high-ranking Courtesans avoided them, they were a common enough practise among lower-ranking Yujo (Ladies of Pleasure), leading professional tattooists to set up business in the pleasure quarters sometime around the early Edo period (1650s).
Tattoos as a testament of love (kisbo-bori) were always words or names rather than images of any kind. Their cache was in their permanence, but Yujo often erased tattoos by cauterizing them using moxa (a dried herb). According to “Yoshiwara: the glittering world of the Japanese courtesan” by Cecilia Segawa Seigle, first published in 1993, one Yujo named Sanseki is recorded as having erased up to seventy-five tattoos of previous lovers’ names (pages 192-193).
This 1930s postcard is based on a much earlier woodblock print entitled “Painful: the appearance of a prostitute of the Kansei era (1789-1801)” by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892).