Japanese Tattoo

  Ainu family, ca. 1900. 

Ainu family, ca. 1900.

The indigenous people of northern Japan call themselves “Ainu,” meaning “people” or “humans” in their language. Recent DNA evidence suggests that the Ainu are the direct descendents of the ancient Jomon people who inhabited Japan as early as 12,000 years ago. Astonishingly, the Jomon culture existed in Japan for some 10,000 years, and today many artistic traditions of the Ainu seem to have evolved from the ancestral Jomon. As such, this artistic continuum represents one of the oldest ongoing cultural traditions in the world spanning at least ten millennia.

Ainu women with tattooed mouths, ca. 1900.  
Ainu women with tattooed mouths, ca. 1900.

Ainu women with tattooed mouths,
ca. 1900.

Jomon culture, like that of the Ainu, was based on a hunting-and-gathering economy. Exploiting natural resources from riverine, terrestrial, and marine ecosystems, the Jomon achieved stasis through active and continual engagement with their surrounding environments. Archaeological evidence in the form of ceramic sculpture supports this view, but it also suggests that particular animals (bears, whales, owls) were highly revered and possibly worshipped as deities. Among the Ainu, all natural phenomena (including flora, fauna, and even inanimate objects) are believed to have a spiritual essence, and particular animals (e.g., brown bears, killer whales, horned owls) continue to be honored in ceremony and ritual as “spirit deities” called kamuy.

Apart from zoomorphic sculpture, Jomon artisans also created anthropomorphic figurines (dogū) that were probably used by individual families for protection against illness, infertility, and the dangers associated with childbirth. Markings on the faces of many of these dogū likely indicate body painting, scarification, or tattooing, and similar figures carved more recently as rock art or into masks by indigenous people of the lower Amur River basin of the Russian Maritime Region suggest an ancient and unbroken tradition of personal adornment and ritual practice.

Ainu Tattooing

Until very recently (the last fully tattooed Ainu woman died in 1998), Ainu women retained a tradition of facial tattooing lending support to the argument that the ancient Jomon employed the custom in the distant past. For the Ainu, tattooing was exclusive to females, as was the profession of tattooist. According to mythological accounts, tattoo was brought to earth by the “ancestral mother” of the Ainu Okikurumi Turesh Machi who was the younger sister of the creator god Okikurumi.

  Chikabumi Ainu woman with child, about 1930 

Chikabumi Ainu woman with child, about 1930

Because tattooing represented an ancestral custom derived from one common female ancestress, it was continued down through the centuries in the matrilineal line. Viewing tattoo practices through the lens of kinship, it is not surprising that the position of tattoo artist was customarily performed by grandmothers or maternal aunts who were called “Tattoo Aunts” or simply “Tattoo Women”.

At various times in history, Japanese authorities prohibited the use of tattoos by the Ainu (and other ethnic peoples under their authority like the indigenous peoples of Taiwan) in attempts to dislocate them from their traditional cultural practices and prepare them for the subsequent process of Japanization. As early as 1799, during the Edo Period, the Ezo Shogunate issued a ban on tattoos: “Regarding the rumored tattoos, those already done cannot be helped, but those still unborn are prohibited from being tattooed”. In 1871, the Hokkaido Development Mission proclaimed, “those born after this day are strictly prohibited from being tattooed” because the custom “was too cruel”. And according to one Western observer, the Japanese attitude towards tattooing was necessarily disapproving since in their own cultural system, “tattooing was associated with crime and punishment whereas the practice itself was regarded as a form of body mutilation, which, in case of voluntary inflictment, was completely averse to the prevalent notions of Confucian filial conduct”.

Edo Period drawings of Ainu tattooing, ca. 1800.
Edo Period drawings of Ainu tattooing, ca. 1800.
Edo Period drawings of Ainu tattooing, ca. 1800.

Edo Period drawings of Ainu tattooing, ca. 1800.

An Ainu tattoo knife or makiri. 

An Ainu tattoo knife or makiri.

Of course, the Ainu vehemently evaded these laws because tattoos were traditionally a prerequisite to marriage and to the afterlife. One report from the 1880s describes that the Ainu were very much grieved and tormented by the prohibition of tattooing: “They say the gods will be angry, and that the women can’t marry unless they are tattooed. They are less apathetic on this than on any subject, and repeat frequently, ‘It’s part of our religion.’” One Ainu woman stated in the 1970s, “I was twenty-one years old before I had this little tattoo put on my lips. After it was done, my mother hid me from the Japanese police for five days. I wish we could have retained at least this one custom!”

The modern Ainu term for tattooing is nuye meaning “to carve” and hence “to tattoo” and “to write”, or more literally, sinuye “to carve oneself”. The old term for tattoo was anchi-piri (anchi, “obsidian”; piri, “cut”).

  Ainu woman wearing attush garment with magical embroidery, ca. 1890. The embroidery, like tattooing, was believed to keep evil spirits from entering the body.  

Ainu woman wearing attush garment with magical embroidery, ca. 1890. The embroidery, like tattooing, was believed to keep evil spirits from entering the body.

Traditional Ainu tattooing instruments called makiri were knife-like in form, and sometimes the sheaths and handles of these tools were intricately carved with zoomorphic and apotropaic motifs. Before the advent of steel tipped makiri, razor sharp obsidian points were used that were wound with fiber allowing only the tip of the point to protrude so as to control the depth of the incisions. As the cutting intensified, the blood was wiped away with a cloth saturated in a hot ash wood or spindlewood antiseptic called nire. Soot taken with the fingers from the bottom of a kettle was rubbed into the incisions, and the tattooist would then sing a yukar or portion of an epic poem that said: “Even without it, she’s so beautiful. The tattoo around her lips, how brilliant it is. It can only be wondered at.” Afterward, the tattooist recited a kind of spell or magic formula as more pigment was laid into the skin: “pas ci-yay, roski, roski, pas ren-ren”, meaning “soot enclosed remain, soot sink in, sink in”.

While this invocation may not seem important at first glance, it was symbolically significant nonetheless. Every Ainu home was constructed according to plan with reference to the central hearth and a sacred window facing a stream. Within the hearth was kindled fire, and within the fire was the home of an important deity who served as mediator between all Ainu gods – Fuchi. The fire goddess Fuchi was invoked prior to all ceremonials because communication with other kamuy (deities and spirits) was impossible without her divine intervention. Fuchi guarded over families and lent her spiritual support in times of trouble and illness or at times of birth and death. In this respect, the central hearth was a living microcosm of the Ainu mythological universe, because as a ritual space, it replicated and provided a means from which to actively intervene in the cosmos. However, it was also a space where Ainu and the gods grew wary of one another, especially if the fire was not burning at all times.

Ainu Tattoos, Girdles, and Symbolic Embroidery

Ainu forearm tattoos with three, five and seven-strand network patterns.

Ainu forearm tattoos with three, five and seven-strand network patterns.   

Ainu forearm tattoos with three, five and seven-strand network patterns.

According to Romyn Hitchcock, an ethnologist working for the Smithsonian Institution in the late 19th century, Ainu tattoo was laid upon the skin at specific intervals, the process sometimes extending over several years: “The faces of the women are disfigured by tattooing around the mouth, the style of which varies with locality. Young maidens of six or seven have a little spot on the upper lip. As they grow older, this is gradually extended until a more or less broad band surrounds the mouth and extends into a tapering curve on both cheeks towards the ears.”

Of course, the tattooist encouraged her client to remain still throughout the painful ordeal, since it was believed that the ritual would prepare the girl for childbirth once she had become a bride. It the pain was too great, one or more assistants held the client down so that the tattooist could continue her work.

After the mouth tattooing, the lips would feel like burning embers. The client became feverish and the pain and swelling would keep her from getting much sleep. Food became an afterthought and when the tattoo client became thirsty a piece of cotton grass was dipped in water and placed against the lips for the client to suck on.

The completed lip tattoos of women were significant in regards to Ainu perceptions of life experience. First, these tattoos were believed to repel evil spirits from entering the body (mouth) and causing sickness or misfortune. Secondly, the lip tattoos indicated that a woman had reached maturity and was ready for marriage. And finally, lip tattoos assured the woman life after death in the place of her deceased ancestors.

Apart from lip tattoos, however, Ainu women wore several other tattoo marks on their arms and hands usually consisting of curvilinear and geometric designs. These motifs, which were begun as early as the fifth or sixth year, were intended to protect young girls from evil spirits. One motif, the braidform pattern, consisting of two rectilinear stripes braided side by side linked to a special motif, represents a kind of band also used for tying the dead for burial. Other marks were placed on various parts of the body as charms against diseases like painful rheumatism.

  Weave structure of three, five, and seven-strand upsor girdles. 

Weave structure of three, five, and
seven-strand upsor girdles.

As with burial cords, the braid-like weave structure of women’s plaited girdles called upsor-kut were embodied with a similarly powerful supernatural “magic” symbolizing not only a woman’s virtue, but her “soul strength”. First discussed by the Western physician Neil Gordon Munro, who with his Japanese wife operated a free clinic in Hokkaido in the 1930s, upsor-kut (“bosom girdles”) were objects worn underneath the woman’s outer garment (attush) and kept “secret” from Ainu men. They were made of woven flax or native hemp varying in length and width and in the number of strands. Composed of either three, five, or seven plaited cords (sometimes alternating with intersecting or overlapping lozenges or chevrons), they closely resemble the tattoo motifs that appear on the arms of Ainu women.

Interestingly, girdles were received upon completion of a girl’s lip tattooing just before or on the occasion of marriage. The design specifications of the girdle were passed down by the girl’s mother; she instructed her daughter how to make the girdle and warned that if it was ever exposed to any male, great misfortune would come to her and the family.

Dr. Munro recorded at least eight types of upsor with each form related to a different line of matrilineal pedigree and associated with several animal and spirit deities (kamuy), such as the killer whale, bear, and wolf crests. Thus aristocratic women, especially the daughters of chiefs (kotan), wore more powerfully charged girdles than common women, because their ancestry connected them more closely to the kamuy. Munro also observed that the daughters of Ainu chiefs were tattooed on the arms before any other women in the village, suggesting that these types of tattoos conferred prestige and social status to the wearer. In this sense, tattoos and girdles appear to be functionally related.

However, tattoos and girdles were connected on yet another, more metaphysical level. The Ainu believed that the fire goddess Fuchi provided Ainu women with the original plans for constructing the sacred upsor girdles. As noted earlier, Fuchi was also symbolized by the soot used in tattooing practice thereby linking the traditions of tattooing and girdling to Ainu mythological thought. And because each type of girdle was associated with a particular kamuy, it can be suggested that particular tattoos were perhaps associated with specific deities: “the wives of the deities were tattooed in a similar fashion as the Ainu women, so that when evil demons would see it, they would mistake the women for deities and therefore stay away”.

  Ainu woman wearing attush garment with magical embroidery, ca. 1900. 

Ainu woman wearing attush garment with magical embroidery, ca. 1900.

But the symbolic fortification of the body did not end with tattoos and girdles. It also extended to clothing. For example, Ainu embroidery seems to have had a related functional efficacy. Women embroidered simple double-stranded braid-like brackets around the neck, front openings, sleeves, and hem on the earliest

Ainu salmon skin and elm bark attush garments to keep evil spirits from entering the apertures of the body. The original designs, resembling braided rope, were nothing more than a solid color, usually dark blue similar to the color of tattoo pigment.

Among the indigenous peoples of the lower Amur River Basin (with whom the Ainu traded), similar design conventions embroidered and appliquéd onto traditional fish skin garments provided the wearer protection from evil spirits. Design motifs were placed on the borders around every opening in traditional robes (neck, arms, legs, front closure, and hem) and all borders had symbolic referents. For instance, the upper borders represented the Upper World and the patterns placed there offered protection in that direction; the hem represented the underworld or underwater world; and the middle parts stood for the world inhabited by humans. On one old indigenous Nanai fish skin robe I have seen in Vladivostok, avian designs represent the Upper World, fish patterns symbolize the lower realms and a Chinese inspired dragon completed the center.


Batchelor, John. (1901). The Ainu and Their Folk-Lore. London: The Religious Tract Society.
–(1907). Ainu Life and Lore: Echoes of a Departing Race. Tokyo: Kyobunkan.

Fitzhugh, William W. and Chisato O. Dubreuil (eds.). (1999). Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Hitchcock, Romyn. (1891). “The Ainos of Yezo, Japan.” Pp. 428-502 in Report of the U.S. National Museum for 1889-1890. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Munro, Neil Gordon. (1963). Ainu Creed and Cult. New York: Columbia University Press.

The Japanese Tattoos

With the variety and skills of tattoo artists, one has to wonder why Japanese tattoos are still so popular today. But the truth is, it is not all that surprising. With the colorful history and vast array of designs, Japanese tattoos are not only aesthetically pleasing, but can carry a good deal of meaning.

The remarkable history and style of the Japanese culture has always mystified the Western world. Signs of this are seen most commonly in tattoos. One of the most popular of these is the Kanji tattoo. Kanji is a calligraphy style writing used by the Japanese. The beauty of this particular style of tattoo is both its simplicity and its diversity. You can convey practically any message you wish with the simple and stylish characters.

Other popular styles of Japanese tattoos are steeped in real life or fantasy. From dragons to koi fish, qilin — which are said to be a good omen, bringing serenity and prosperity — to romantic flora like cherry blossoms and lotuses.

japanese tattoosThe beauty of Japanese tattoos is that you can go well beyond symbols or small, meaningful signs, and create masterful pieces that can cover large areas of your body. For instance, many images can portray beautiful outdoor scenes with large billowy clouds, wind or even fantastic, old fashioned scenes of a wavy ocean. These are often taken from the ukiyo-e or “pictures of the floating world”, which is a genre of Japanese woodcuts. These remarkable scenes can be mixed with many figures from either an outdoor scene, such as flowers or animals; folkloric characters, or something more meaningful to you personally.

Another thing to keep in mind is placement. For instance a hikae, or chest panel tattoo, is a classic placement. This tattoo starts at the chest and blends out into the shoulder, and often down the arm. A nagasode tattoo is considered a “sleeve” piece and starts under the shoulder and down to the wrist, while a shichibu is 7/10ths of the sleeve and gobu is 5/10ths.

Many people take Japanese tattoos further than just covering large portions of their body. Instead, they opt to cover almost their entire body, from neck to mid-thigh. These are often seen with a multicolored pictorial tattoo of the Suikoden, which was, and still is a massively popular set of four novels in Chinese literature. It was originally translated in Japan in 1757 and woodcuts were created for these stories in 1827. Since then, many people enjoy these rich and colorful tattoos that tell classic and unmistakable stories.

Despite the fact that tattooing is still considered rather on the taboo side in Japan, those who seek out either rebellion or a sense of beauty will find themselves drawn to the mystical, unique and splendid style of Japanese tattoos. This style will continue to have a draw for its variety and its colorful nature

The Japanese Tattoo Art: Japanese Tattoo Symbols and Designs

A world where you are greeted with some of the most enticing scents of exotic brewing tea, and a place where your senses will eagerly await the majestic obstacle of the cha ceremony. Yes, Japan is a place that has somehow intoxicated our minds with its art and its intense philosophy.

The beauty of the Japanese landscapes, woodcut art forms and watercolors have all been long since admired for their tranquility and beauty. And, they have also been represented by the beautiful art of tattooing. The Japanese art of tattooing has many names, two of the most common being - irezumi and horimono. Irezumi is the traditional word for a tattoo that is visible on the body and covers a large surface area, like the back. Yes, tattoo art has a long and rich history in Japan.

Due to the early influences of Buddhism and Confucianism on the Japanese people and their culture, the art of tattooing has always had a somewhat negative connotation for most of the people. The Japanese tattoo is considered to be the mark of the yakuza, who is a member of the Japanese mafia.

The Early History of the Japanese Tattoo Art
Archaeologists have said that the first few settlers of Japan, the Ainu people, used to use facial tattoos. There have also been several documented reports about the ‘Wa’ people - which is the Chinese name for the Japanese people - who were said to dive into the water in search of fish and shells and who decorated their entire bodies with tattoos. These documents date back to almost 1700 years ago.

However, the Chinese culture was very highly developed and for them the act of tattooing was considered to be barbaric. When Buddhism was brought into Japan from China, it also brought along with a very strong Chinese influence and thus, tattooing was perceive as negative. Criminals were tattooed o identify and punish them in society.

Modern Japanese Tattoo Art
Although many of the younger generation find the whole concept of tattooing fashionable and trendy, most of the Japanese population still considers it to be something that is linked to the underworld of gangsters and mafia.

Most of the younger generation however, tend to get tattoos on their upper arms where it cannot be directly visible. But, with the Western influences gaining in popularity all over Japan, tattoos are now being shown off more frequently than it once was.

Japanese Tattoo Symbols and Designs
Japanese tattoo symbols and designs dates back as far as 5000 BC. It is also highly possible that the art of tattooing in Japan could have existed well before this date. Japanese clay figurines that date right back to the 5th Millennia BC have also been found with their faces engraved or painted so as to represent tattoos. As far as archaeologists and historians can tell, tattoos in the olden days were believed to have held a special magical or religious meaning to the bearers.

Kanji is a calligraphy style of letter writing that is used by the Japanese. It is indeed a widely popular choice amongst those who are looking for the best Japanese tattoo symbols or designs. By using this kanji method, you can create as well as display any message that you want to. Most of the popular kanji characters displayed today translate into a number of words and emotions such as love, happiness, laughter, wealth, lovers, beautiful, sadness, loyalty and duty.

From beautiful, exotic flowers to fierce Japanese dragon tattoos, or even large intricately designed samurai warriors, Japanese tattoo symbols and designs work for everyone and anyone. A Japanese koi fish tattoo swimming lazily across a woman’s hip, a tiny ring of beautiful cherry blossoms fused together as an armband or at the ankle, a fierce looking emerald serpent slithering up someone’s calf, or a samurai warrior and a lady embracing on a back - as wonderful as this art of Horimono seems to be - you might very well find yourself being lured into getting all of these beautiful Japanese symbols and designs made on your body. After all, you can never stop at one can you?

The Japanese Tattoo Ladies

A Japanese tattoo design is by far the most effective selections you can make, but finding the quality artwork online could be a pain, as you will have noticed by now.For most people on the market, a Japanese tattoo design might be one thing special and it will imply something to them. You want something original and you need designs that have been actually drawn to be carried out as tattoos, which most cookie-cutter websites do not have.
If you’re like most people on the planet, you want quality designs that are considerably authentic to them. These cookie-cutter web sites won’t give you a lot of that, if any Japanese tattoo design.

There are also web sites that function authentic artwork that was really drawn to be made into tattoos, which is in sharp contrast to those cookie-cutter places. They are simply crammed with paintings from artists who haven’t any actual knowledge about tattoos, which is a no-no for something as detailed as a Japanese tattoo design can be. When you look around on the web, you could find some very cheap and superb Japanese Tattoo Designs.

Japanese tattoo designs are wealthy in symbolism. It’s because the art of Japanese tattooing is backed up by centuries of tradition and tradition. Since the Japanese have such high regard for nature and spirituality, they typically affiliate completely different creatures and locations with deep spiritual meanings. These designs emit a sense of energy, a lot so that the body the place the tattoo is positioned on almost disappears instantly behind the picture. The extra popular Japanese tattoo designs span the length of virtually your entire body. A number of the finest and most well known patterns can cover the entire again from the thighs all the way to the shoulders.

The Japanese Snake Tattoos

nterested in a snake tattoo from Japan? Indulge in the interesting history associated with Japanese snake tattoos.

Generally, the image of the snake is considered to represent a negative character. The prevailing opinion in Japan is however void of any influence of the biblical association of the snake with sin. The snake is an image that is very commonly found in the art of tattooing in Japan.

Snakes are most commonly featured in the Japanese tradition of full body suits. You would find snake tattoos to be used in combination with blossoms. The particular symbolism and meaning associated with Japanese snake tattoos varies intensely. Unlike the Christian community, where having a snake tattoo on your body would be looked down upon due to the biblical representation of the animal, in the Japanese culture the snake is something that is revered.

Snake tattoo symbolism

The snake is a rather respected reptile in Japanese tradition. For them the snake symbolizes the regenerative nature that life possesses. History reveals that snakes were commonly used in religious rites in Japan. Wisdom and healing were some of the most common attributes that the snake was considered to symbolize.

The Caduceus symbol which is today used for the purpose of identifying doctors has a deep history in Japanese tradition. It is a classic example to see how tattoos where used for the purpose of marking a particular segment of society according to its traits. The snake tattoo is pretty much in line with the medical profession.

Japanese snake tattoo designs have a lot more meaning than an average observer may be able to decipher. The modern rendition of the caduceus to serve as a sign of the medical profession is a classic example of how meanings and symbolism associated with snake tattoos has changed over time.

The winged staff that is intertwined with two snakes is a popular variation in the library of snake tattoos. This particular design symbolizes harmony and balance. Many people can be seen wearing this design but most of them remain largely unaware of the meaning behind the symbol. Spiritual awakening is another meaning generated by Japanese snake tattoos.

Snake tattoos have been taken as a symbol representing the divine feminine in Japanese tradition. There are records of temples dedicated to snake goddesses. The ancient people found the regenerative skin properties of the snake to be quite mystical which let them to consider the reptile as a revered being.

Tattoos were taken as totem markings by the ancient tribes of Japan. The people would get themselves tattooed with the belief that it would lead to the development of certain virtues in the man. A snake tattoo done as a totem marking showed that the individual was looking for wisdom and stealth. The snakes were also considered to be embedded with a particular form of energy which the wearer of the tattoo sought to develop within himself.

The Japanese Tattoos – an Overview

Japanese tattoos are a very popular request in the tattoo studios, as they are a style of body art that’s rich with symbolism and has links to ancient traditions. The majority of Japanese tattoos consist heavily of written symbols which can be divided into three main categories.

1) Kanji

Of the three types of Japanese tattoo symbols; Kanji is the most popular because it is so expressive and artistic. Each different Kanji symbol (of which there are reported to be more than 40,000) represents a specific idea or meaning. So by combining a number of different Kanji symbols in your tattoo design it’s possible to create a stylish and unique tattoo that expresses an unlimited number of ideas and messages.

2) Hiragana

Unlike Kanji, Hiragana is a style of writing that’s used in everyday Japanese life. You’ll find it used in media such as newspapers and magazines, so it’s much more amenable to literal translation than Kanji.

In terms of design, the hiragana characters are more rounded than Kanji symbols, which is worth bearing in mind depending upon your artistic tastes. Hiragana writing is also known as cursive, so don’t get confused if you hear someone speaking about a cursive tattoo.

3) Katakana

The system of Katakana is similar to Hiragana. Together they’re known as Kana and were originally based on the Kanji symbols which existed more than one thousand years ago. Since than they’ve developed into their present form and both Hiragana and Katakana each have their own set of 46 symbols with which to form their words.

The system of Katakana symbols is used almost exclusively to represent words that are non Japanese in origin. These symbols are similar to the system of hiragana with the main difference being that words in Katakana have sharper edges and are much more angular in appearance.

And that concludes the three types of Japanese tattoo symbols that are available. However, there’s no rule that says you have to choose one style and stick to it. You could have your tattoo designed so that it includes more than one of these styles. For example, you could have a sentence written using Hiragana that includes various Kanji symbols to enrich it with greater meaning.

But whatever option you select, it’s important to take one additional safety precaution before you go anywhere near a tattoo studio with your design. As you can see from this brief explanation of different character types, the system of Japanese writing is extremely complicated and subtle.

If you don’t speak Japanese fluently, it’s vital to get an accurate translation of your design from a Japanese language expert.

It’s also a good idea to make sure that you find a tattoo artist who has experience forming the various Japanese characters and symbols.

Ultimately, the tattoos that people are most pleased with are those that have deep personal meaning or significance.

Japanese Tattoos and Their Meanings

Japanese tattoo art has gained tremendous popularity all over the world. Unlike earlier, when Japanese tattoo art was only associated with the Yakuza, today they are associated with culture and are considered a distinctive version of tattoo art. Japanese tattoos always have something for everyone, whether you want a fierce dragon, a delicate cherry blossom, a beautiful koi fish swimming across your back, or the intricate scene of samurai warriors locked in mortal combat. Besides the variety in tattoo designs, the main beauty lies in the Japanese tattoos.

History of Japanese Tattoos
The Japanese tattoos have a long and rich history. The first evidence of Japanese tattoos can be seen on 5000 year old figurines recovered from tombs. Also, texts from the 3rd century A.D. speak of Japanese men decorating their faces and bodies with tattoos. Centuries later, mainly due to the powerful cultural influence of China, tattooing became a taboo, and was largely reserved for outcasts and criminals. The integral part of traditional Japanese tattoo was an elaborate system of symbols that were used to tell a story through the use of specific images that were meant to reveal the character of the individual.

Japanese Tattoos and Meanings
An integral part of the allure of traditional Japanese tattoos lie in the capacity of the designs to evolve, from smaller separate individual tattoos, to brilliant motifs that can embrace the entire arm as a sleeve. Each Japanese tattoo has a different meaning.

Cherry Blossoms
The cherry blossoms are used to represent life itself. They are also called Sakura. The beauty of the cherry blossom lies in the strength it has to survive in the harsh conditions that they bloom in, along with their fragile nature, as they only last a couple of days. The Japanese view this as a direct representation of how life should be. They believe that everyday should be lived to the fullest and that the awareness of death should only make us want to seize each moment in our life. This is one of the Japanese tattoo meanings which clearly signifies power and beauty. However, one should remember to take adequate tattoo care after getting a cherry blossom tattoo.

Koi Fish Tattoos
Koi fish tattoos are perhaps the second favored symbols in Japanese tattoos. Generally, koi fish are bright colored fish that have special symbolism in Japanese culture and you can even find them in front of many temples. The myth states that the koi fish swim upstream to a bridge or gate of heaven where they were transformed into dragons. This design symbolizes luck, strength, power, ambition and individuality. So if you are looking for a tattoo that symbolizes the struggle faced by humans in life, the perfect choice is a koi fish tattoo.

The mythical dragon is something we all associate Japan with! The dragons hold a very important place in Japanese culture. The dragon tattoo is associated with many meanings, from freedom, courage, wisdom, power, strength to even supernatural powers. When it comes to choosing a dragon tattoo, let your imagination fly, as there is no concern of making it look realistic. And each color dragon has a different symbolization, so choose the color carefully.

Hannya Masks
Hannya masks is a very traditional Japanese design which has been replicated into. The meanings of Japanese tattoos often originate from kabuki plays, just like this tattoo. Hannya masks are demonic masks which come from the famous kabuki plays in Japan, and it depicts a woman who has been consumed with rage over her lover. These tattoos are believed to ward off evil spirits, and bring good luck to the person sporting them.

These were some of the popular Japanese tattoos and their meanings. There are infinite designs and meanings of Japanese tattoos. If you are a tattoo lover, then you are bound to be enticed by them all! When getting a Japanese tattoo, it is extremely crucial to know and understand the Japanese tattoo meanings, but all said and done, no matter which design you select they are bound to stand out!

The Japanese Tattoo Art
japanese tattoo art
Japanese tattoo art has а lot оf names - irezumi аnd horimono іn thе Japanese language. Irezumi is the word meant for the basic visible ink covering big parts оf thе body likе the back. Japanese tattoo art hаѕ а extremely extensive tradition.
tattoo art designs
Since the influence of Confucianism and Buddhism оver thе Japanese culture, tattoo art hаs а damaging connotation for thе majority оf the Japanese population. In thе eyes оf an typical Japanese а ink іs considered а mark оf а yakuza - a member of thе Japanese mafia - and а macho emblem of members of the lesser classes.
tattoo art designs
Archaeologists bеlіevе that the initial settlers of Japan, the Ainu citizens, usеd facial tattoos. Chinese papers tеll сonсerning thе Wa inhabitants - the Chinese namе meant for thеir Japanese neighbours - аnd the individuals lifestyle of diving intо water for fish and shells аnd decorating thе total skin wіth tattoos. These reports аre in thе region of 1700 years old.
tattoo art designs
For the top developed Chinese culture, tattooing waѕ a barbaric undertaking. As ѕoоn aѕ Buddhism wаs brought frоm China to Japan and with it the solid influence оf thе Chinese culture, tattooing gоt harmful connotations. Criminals were marked wіth tattoos tо punish and identify thеm within society.
tattoo art designs
In the Edo period - 1603-1868 - Japanese tattoo drawings bеcamе a part of ukiyo-e - the suspended world culture. Prostitutes - yujos - оf thе pleasure quarters used tattoos to improve thе individuals prettiness fоr customers. Skin tattoos wеre furthеrmоre uѕеd by labourers аnd firemen.
tattoo art designs
From 1720 on, the tattooing of criminals becаme аn legitimate punishment and replaced taking awау of thе nose аnd thе ears. The criminal received a ring ink arоund thе arm in support оf еverу offence or еlѕе а character ink on hіs temple. Tattooing criminals wаѕ continued untіl 1870, аt what time іt wаs abolished bу the new Meiji government of thе Japanese Emperor.
tattoo art designs
This visible punishment produced а further genre оf outcasts whіch hаd nо place taking part in society and nowhеrе to go. A lot of theѕе outlaws wеre ronin - master less samurai warriors. They had nо alternatives thаn organizing gangs. These men created thе start оf thе yakuza - thе controlled criminals inside Japan inside thе twentieth century.
tattoo art designs
In 1827 the ukiyo-e artist Kuniyoshi Utagawa published the original 6 emblems оf thе 108 Heroes оf thе Suikoden. The Suikoden werе sоmеthіng likе ancient Robin Hoods - honourable bandits. The story is based оn а classic Chinese nоvel - Shui-Hi-Chuan, which dates frоm thе 13th аnd 14th century. The nоvеl wаѕ initially translated into Japanese іn 1757 bу Okajima Kanzanion. By the turn оf thе 18th to thе 19th century the story wаѕ avаіlаblе with illustrations bу Katsushika Hokusai. The novеl оf the 108 honourable bandits wаѕ extremely accepted in the sphere of Japan and created а kind оf Suikoden trend amongst Japanese towns inhabitants.
tattoo art designs
Kuniyoshi’s Suikoden ukiyo-e emblems bare the heroes іn colourful, detailed body tattoos. Japanese ink prints аnd tattoo drawings in general subsequently beсаmе stylish. Tattoos wеrе considered iki - cool - howеvеr were restricted tо thе poorer classes.
tattoo art designs
Within itѕ strive tо adopt Western civilizations, the Imperial Meiji government outlawed tattooing аs something thought аbоut а barbaric relict of the past. The funny thing was that the Japanese irezumi artists right аway got brand nеw customers - the sailors from the foreign ships anchoring inside Japanese harbours. Hence Japanese ink designs wаs spread tо the West.
The Art of the Yakuza: Japan’s Tattooed Men & Women

Color my underworld... tattoo photo of Yakuza membersColor my underworld… tattoo photo of Yakuza members
Centuries ago in the days of the Shogun, Japan’s authorities would mark criminals with tattoos to distinguish them from the rest of the population.

 These highly visible tattoos usually took the form of a black ring around the arm; with rings added as convictions increased.

These marked men were usually discriminated against so they tended to stick together, eventually forming the organized, mafia-style gangs now known as "Yakuza". Worn proudly as symbols of status and dedication, Yakuza tattoos have evolved into magnificent, multicolored full-body masterpieces.

Original painted lady... tattoo photo from early 20th centuryOriginal painted lady… tattoo photo from early 20th century

Today’s many Yakuza factions are patriarchal in nature but women are integral parts of Japan’s gangland society. Wives, mistresses and girlfriends of top Yakuza figures often undergo extensive tattooing.

The illustrated mistress... an exquisite tattoo photoThe illustrated mistress… an exquisite tattoo photo

Sometimes these women use tattoos to demonstrate their affiliation with the gang lifestyle; in other cases it’s done to show loyalty and obedience to the Yakuza member they are involved with.

"Yakuza Moon", by Shoko Tendo"Yakuza Moon", by Shoko Tendo

One prominent - and prominently tattooed - woman with Yakuza ties is Shoko Tendo. Author of the best-selling book “Yakuza Moon: Memoirs of a Gangster’s Daughter” , Tendo had herself tattooed in traditional Yakuza style using traditional Japanese motifs and brilliant colors.

Tattoo photo of adolescent imageryTattoo photo of adolescent imagery

Japanese society is slowly losing its prejudice against tattoos, tattooing and those who are tattooed. Young people are embracing tattoos as a form of pure body art with no Yakuza connotations and the influence of Western celebrities, who have no historical bias against tattooing, tends to make tattoos more acceptable.

Sign of the timesSign of the times

Still, many public baths and hot spring resorts post signs banning bathers with tattoos - though who’s going to raise the issue when the Yakuza comes a-knocking?

The Japanese Tattoo Art

Some question the artistic factor of Japanese tattoo art, but it is because they are looking at simple pieces such as symbols. Japanese tattoo art consists of so much more. As a matter of fact, there are some amazing designs that celebrities and other high profile individuals have paid a lot of money for.


Japanese tattoo art has been around for centuries. It is thought that facial tattoos graced the faces of early Japanese settlers. Throughout the years, the art evolved and it was a custom to be tattooed with very detailed images. For instance, in 1827 Kuniyoshi Utagawa created 6 very intricate designs that were part of the 108 Heroes of the Suikoden. These heroes were like a bunch of Robin Hoods. Each tattoo told a piece of the story.

There is Japanese art that depicts their warriors as heavily tattooed. In today’s Japan, it is not common to find someone who is heavily tattooed. As it stands, the Japanese people consider people who are tattooed to be a part of an underworld of gangsters. They believe it to be a habit of the low class. Young tattooed people in Japan have them placed where people cannot see. That way they do not have to encounter judgment by their peers or older individuals in Japan.

But the Japanese tattoo designs are quite amazing when you look at them. They depict parts of Japanese history, contain many fine lines that make the design, and the colors are so vivid and unique. Some people may even have their entire back tattooed because some tattoos are only good when they are large and a message is to be relayed.


Flowers and dragons tend to be the most common, aside from Japanese symbols with significant meaning to the tattooed individual. Extensive Japanese tattoo art can take a while to finish. Because of the amount of detail put into some designs, it can take several sittings to finish. Having one done in one sitting could be quite daunting to the tattoo artist and to the recipient. It is also necessary to allow some healing to take place before continuing some parts of the journey.

It is also common to see Japanese tattoo art of Japanese warriors with weapons and of serpents. The best way to know what your options are is to explore online or consult with your Japanese tattoo artist on what it is that can be done for you.