Interesting Facts About Japanese Tattoos

On January 2, 2013, in Tattoo Facts, by Tristan G

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when someone mentions Japan – Ninja warriors, robots, geishas, kamikaze, magnificent culture, Samurai warriors, Scarlett Johansson or Bill Murray? For many people the first thing would be incredible Japanese tattoos.

The history of tattoo practice in Japan stretches back to ancient times and it is almost as old as Buddhism. Interesting fact about the beginnings of tattooing in Japan is that they were first used by members of upper stratum of society so to express their social status, which is completely opposed to established opinion that tattoos in Japan were connected with criminal organizations from their very beginning.

Irezumi Tattoo
One of the oldest tattoo designs in Japan is Irezumi which literally means “to put ink into the skin”. This technique was commonly used for marking the outlaws. Irezumi was inspired by wood carving and, according to studies, first tattoo artists started as woodblock artists. They simply replaced woodblocks with human bodies, but kept tools for carving the wood panels such as small chisels and gauges. The woodblock art is time consuming which also applies to tattooing using the same technique.

Even today, to finish the design using this old-school technique can take up to 10 years and is very expensive. Some of the Irezumi tattoo designs cost more than $30,000. So, if you are patient enough and you don’t mind visiting your tattoo artist every week over several years, if you can tolerate high level of pain and your budget is sufficient, Irezumi is perfect for you. This tattoo design is commonly connected to notorious Yakuza gangs, but many people don’t know that blue collar workers, firemen, and carpenters also wear this kind of tattoo.

In Japanese culture there are five ways for a geisha to avow her love and devotion to her client. One of them is tattooing the name of her client on her body. Other proofs are writing a love vow which is nice, cutting off hair which is weird, removing a nail from her finger – which is weirder, and cutting off little finger – which is the mother of all weirdness. There was also an extreme proof of mutual love – a double suicide, but come on, it’s so 18th century.

Kishobori – the vow or oath tattoo was interesting dot pattern tattoo design representing the places on body where lovers touched each other, but usually they tattooed a dot on the top of their hands to mark the spot where partner’s thumb was placed when holding hands. Maybe these tattoos look like moles, but they are very romantic.

The Japanese tattoo art is full of creatures from animal kingdom and mystical world. The most common is a dragon tattoo which symbolizes power, strong will and fearlessness. According to legends, the only way to pass the dragon on your path is to answer his riddles. That’s why the dragon tattoo is also a symbol for wisdom. A Phoenix tattoo represents immortality and triumph of life over death. In Asian religions Lotus flower has important place because lotus grows out of mud into a beautiful flower. Lotus tattoo symbolizes positive changes and individualism.

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