From Culture to Art: A Guide to Japanese Tattoos

japanese tattoo

Though tattoos are still considered taboo in Japan, traditional Japanese tattoos are popular throughout the world. Also known as traditional irezumi and asaiatic styles, these types of tattoos are rich in culture and artistic history. 

While tattoo designers of today are adding their own personal twist to this old-world style, it’s easy to recognize Japanese body art compared to traditional western-style tattoos. In this guide, we’ll share how Japanese tattoos have developed through history to become the art form they are today. 

The Reality of Japan’s Tattoo Culture

It’s important to start by talking about Japan’s current tattoo culture. Though these symbols beloved in Japanese art today are a sign of brave warriors of ancient times, tattoos are still considered a cultural faux pas today. 

Believe it or not, this stigma stems from Japanese gangsters. Known as the Yakuza, these gangsters were notorious for their irezumi tattoos. However, times are slowly changing. Underground art movements are reclaiming this style of body design to bring them back into the limelight in a positive way. 

Traditional Irezumi Style

In the Japanese Edo period starting in the 1600s, tattoos started to become an art form. Traditional irezumi refers to the decoration of the body with symbols including flowers, mythical beasts, and other images from stories. These were seen as an aspirational sign of one’s life goals. 

The way these tattoos are done also matters. Irezumi artists are known as a Horishi. These artists do these tattoos by hand. They use wooden handles and a metal needle on a silk thread. Special needles are used to make these designs, and they’re notoriously painful. Because these tattoos are so painful and time-consuming, having an all-over irezumi design is a sign of strength. 

Asiatic Style

Another type of tattoo style that stems from Japan is the asiatic style. These are more contemporary, and you’ll likely recognize many elements from western tattoo designs. 

In the asiatic style, it’s all about bright colors, watercolors, and pastels. These tattoos mirror the familiar Japanese watercolor paintings of the past and present. Including popular Japanese symbols like cherry blossoms, koi fish, and the ocean are all common in this type of tattoo design. 

Aside from visuals evoking nature, calligraphy is also a popular part of this style. Japanese calligraphy is beautiful in itself, and it’s not uncommon to see this language used in designs outside of Japan. 

Understanding Japanese Tattoo Design

If you’re considering a tattoo that’s rich in meaning and history, take a deeper look into Japanese tattoos. Though you won’t find too many people in Japan today sporting tattoos, there’s a budding underground culture bringing big changes to light. If you’re not sure where to begin, Tattoo Stylist is a great tool for connecting with the design of your dreams. 

From Koi fish to traditional dragons, Japanese tattoos seek to tell a story. While these stories used to be about warriors, nature, and the history of Japan, they’re slowly changing to suit modern art styles. Tattoos are no longer outlawed in Japan, so this country’s tattoo history is not yet over. The world is smaller than ever. As more cultures and art continue to blend, the future of tattoo design looks bright. 

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