But at eight o’clock three persons of the most extraordinary appearance, led by M. Kangourou, present themselves with profound bows at the door of my cabin. They are arrayed in long robes bedizened with dark patterns; they have the flowing locks, high foreheads, and pallid countenances of persons too exclusively devoted to the fine arts; and, perched on the top of their coiffures, they wear sailor hats of English shape tipped jauntily on one side. Tucked under their arms, they carry portfolios filled with sketches; in their hands are boxes of water-colors, pencils, and, bound together like fasces, a bundle of fine stylets with the sharp and glittering points.
At the first glance, even in the bewilderment of waking up, I gather from their appearance what their errand is, and guessing with what visitors I have to deal, I say: “Come in, Messieurs the tattooers!”
These are the specialists most in renown in Nagasaki; I had engaged them two days ago, not knowing that we were about to leave, and since they are here I will not turn them away.
My friendly and intimate relations with primitive man, in Oceania and elsewhere, have imbued me with a deplorable taste for tattoo-work; and I had wished to carry away on my own person, as a curiosity, an ornament, a specimen of the work of the Japanese tattooers, who have a delicacy of finish which is unequalled.
From their albums spread out upon my table I make my choice. There are some remarkably odd designs among them, appropriate to the different parts of the human body: emblems for the arms and legs, sprays of roses for the shoulders, great grinning faces for the middle of the back. There are even, to suit the taste of their clients who belong to foreign navies, trophies of arms, American and French flags entwined, a “God Save the Queen” amid encircling stars, and figures of women taken from Grevin’s sketches in the Journal Amusant.
My choice rests upon a singular blue and pink dragon two inches long, which will have a fine effect upon my chest on the side opposite the heart.
Then follows an hour and a half of irritation and positive pain. Stretched out on my bunk and delivered over to the tender mercies of these personages, I stiffen myself and submit to the million imperceptible pricks they inflict. When by chance a little blood flows, confusing the outline by a stream of red, one of the artists hastens to stanch it with his lips, and I make no objections, knowing that this is the Japanese manner, the method used by their doctors for the wounds of both man and beast.
A piece of work, as minute and fine as that of an engraver upon stone, is slowly executed on my person; and their lean hands harrow and worry me with automatic precision.
Finally it is finished, and the tattooers, falling back with an air of satisfaction to contemplate their work, declare it to be lovely.
I dress myself quickly to go on shore, to take advantage of my last hours in Japan.