Tattoo art has been as popular in Japan as in western countries or China or any other Asian countries. Tattooing has an ethnic character in Japanese art and is considered an important art form and Japanese tattoo designs are known for its historical and symbolic value.
Once upon a time tattooing was considered as an act of alienation with Japanese Mafia, the Yakuza. However, history says that tattoo art become famous when Buddhism and Confucianism had a fairly strong hold in Japan. In Japanese language, tattoo art is called “Irezumi” or “Horimono” and has fascinated people into tattooing themselves for a very long time. The tattoo designs are done in bold and bright colors, and most of them are inspired by natural beauty.
Table of Contents
- History of Japanese Tattoos
- Types of Japanese Tattoos (Meanings)
- 1) Kanji Tattoo
- 2) Japanese Animal Tattoos
- 3) Japanese Flower Tattoos
- 4) Natural Scenery Tattoo
- 5) Buddha Tattoo
- 6) Samurai Warrior Tattoos
- 7) Geisha Tattoo
- 8) Yakuza Tattoos
History of Japanese Tattoos
Traditionally, Japanese tattoos started as a way of symbolizing the social status and to act as the spiritual symbols that have frequently been utilized as expressing devotion, religious tattoos and kind of charm for protection.
You can trace the Japanese tattoos’ real history back to 10,000 BCE. Tattoos were used by the woman called “Ainu” as body art to decorate themselves to look like the goddess, to ensure Devils (who caused disorders) would mistake them and get frightened. These Japanese ancient tribal tattoos began having a little tattoo on the top lip at an early age. This small tattoo was enlarged when they were still young girls, and the tattoo will be enlarged as they get older.
From 300 BC to 300 AD, Japanese tattoos were used for societal and religious functions. Much like in other tattoo utilized in the other ancient societies, it’s a symbol and mark of different social status.
From 300 AD onwards, tattoos were used in Japan to indicate criminals or offenders. These criminal tattoos were called, “bokkei” or “bokukei.” Japan was the final nation to stop using tattoo as dirty marks on offenders (in 1870). Afterward, the criminals began to cover their criminal mark tattoos with more decorative tattoos. And that’s the way the Japanese tattoo art began.
The transformation of Japanese tattoos was accelerated rapidly during the “Edo” era in the 1800s, where people celebrated and show-off their wealth and power by inking new tattoos on their body. And it had become one of the norm and culture in Japan. Some might call it “Yakuza Tattoo Art.” Now, tattooing had become the significant body art and fashion trend in Japan due to the influence of the “Yakuza Art.”
Types of Japanese Tattoos (Meanings)
1) Kanji Tattoo
Kanji are Japanese characters with Chinese origin sources. Some characters are similar to Chinese characters. Kanji are simplified Chinese characters that were conventional, but the majority of these have simplifications that were distinct. There are about 50,000 kanji characters.
You could go in for a Kanji character to depict any word or convey a message or expression. Chinese characters incorporated in Japanese writing is known as Kanji, and this has fast become extremely popular in Japanese tattoo designs. It lends it’s for aptly representing an expression or idea.
2) Japanese Animal Tattoos
As we know almost all animals represent a character and have symbolic values attached to its nature. You could choose a Japanese animal that may suit your character or maybe select one from the Chinese calendar that matches your year of birth and have it inked in the Japanese way. A serpent, koi or dragon would be a nice choice for Japanese traditional tattoos.
1) Japanese Dragon Tattoos
According to Japanese culture, A dragon’s body is a mix of parts from some creatures, with each part symbolizing a quality in the creature it represents.
Dragons (Ryujin), (日本の竜 Nihon no ryū) are generous, powerful creatures that use their power and strength to protect and to do good for humanity. Wisdom is another characteristic imputed to dragons.
2) Koi Fish Tattoos
Since Koi (鯉) fish is well known for its capability to swim upstream regardless of the circumstances. These fish are even thought to swim up waterfalls. That’s the main reasons the Koi fish is a representational symbol of Japanese culture and spirits.
Koi fish tattoos commonly symbolize fortune and good luck. Koi tattoo frequently expresses a man’s aspirations to enhance themselves. A Koi tattoo is usually selected by those who need perseverance through challenging scenarios or to showcase their personal strength. Those who have high anticipations for his or her life also often get koi tattoos.
3) Phoenix Tattoos
As stated by the narrative, Phoenix is a bird that is consumed by fire and after that rises from its ashes. Phoenix tattoos are intended to symbolize renewal, rebuilding, triumph, success, and rebirth.
In Japan, Phoenix frequently used as symbols for many things such as carved symbol on the sword hilts, embroidery on the kimono dresses and other female accessories. Furthermore, the Phoenix is one of the several symbols that used by the Japanese Empire. Combine with the dragon together; it symbolizes yin and yang, the harmonious combining of the finest of the masculine and feminine merits; the Phoenix is frequently twinned in Japanese tattooing.
Associated with female qualities, each section of its body signifying a particular meaning. Obligation, goodness, kindness, and dependability are a few of the lesser known meanings of the Phoenix in Japan. The Phoenix’s flame signifies transformation and purification through hardship and fire.
4) Tiger Tattoos
The Japanese tiger tattoo represents bravery and strength, and long life. Tiger is considered as one of the holy animals in Japan.
Tiger images have been heavily used in many events and decorations in Japan, such as worship, religious events, temples, and arts.
The tiger tattoo can be utilized to ward off evil spirits and bad luck. And it is a symbol of fall and the North; they may be believed to control the wind in Japanese culture.
5) Snake Tattoos
Another creature of the original Japanese tattoo’s vast pantheon is Hebi, or the Snake because it is called in the Japanese language. Snake (Hebi) The Hebi is just another creature that is supposed to signify a wide selection of supernatural beliefs including protection against ill fortune, catastrophe, and sickness.
As in some other cultures and mythologies, the snake in the Japanese head has undertones that are dualistic, being both bad and good. In Japan, nevertheless, the Hebi is both related to the underworld and also death through the myths enclosing the true indigenous faith of Shinto, along with truly being a creature that represents fertility power for women.
6) Japanese Lion / Foo-Dog Tattoos
The foo dog tattoos are thought to be protective. Additionally, they symbolize bravery and survival. The Foo Dog has additionally been called the “Lion of Buddha” In Asia, Some countries called them as Fu Dogs, Fo Dogs, and karashishi (in Japan), they have been regularly applied to Asian art, sculpture, and many other religious-related events too.
The Shinto religion of Japan that predates Buddhism refers Foo Dogs as the spiritual lions that will bring wealth or well-being and get rid of bad/evil spirits.Regardless of the source, though, be it Japanese or Chinese, Shinto or Buddhist, the Foo Dog, is a symbol of powerful protective and bravery.
3) Japanese Flower Tattoos
Flowers are eternally right choices for tattoo designs. The Lotus is a revered flower in the Japanese tradition and so are cherry blossom and many other flowers.
1) Lotus Flower Tattoos
The Lotus is symbolic of purity and spirituality. Lotus flower with Buddha sitting on its open petals would depict faith, wisdom, and serenity.
The lotus plant’s stalk grows beyond the surface of the muddy water, and the beautiful flower finally blooms without any dirty mud attached to it.
In very similar manner, it does signify that the person is always in peaceful-minded in the ever-changing and complicated environments.
2) Cherry Blossom Tattoos
The symbolic meanings of Cherry Blossom in Japan are as significant as the rose flower in the western countries. It has become societal and ethnic symbols that were popular in Japan and China.
The Japanese refer to Sakura (cherry blossoms) as a sign of life.
After their overly-short-life flowering season, the cherry flower is scattered around by wind and rain and falls to the floor. It’s in this life cycle that their flowers become valued for each of their attractiveness and beautifulness. A Japanese cherry flower tattoo is a symbol of the feminine. And also as a reminder for the wearer to appreciate and value the every beautiful moment in their life.
4) Natural Scenery Tattoo
If you are a nature lover, Japanese landscapes, the misty Mt. Fuji, the waves of the ocean are all right choices for tattoo designs.
Japan, known as the land of the rising sun could be depicted with the sun rising between mountains.
The Fuji mountain, temples and villages are the most popular Japanese natural scenery tattoo designs.
5) Buddha Tattoo
A Buddha temple with a meditating Buddha or his scriptures or any of the other ancient Japanese gods would be a representation of your respect for the Japanese tradition.
People with Buddha tattoos signify they are very committed to the particular belief with wisdom and peaceful mind. And it also symbolize spiritual peacefulness.
6) Samurai Warrior Tattoos
Japanese samurai warriors are known for their courage and unrelenting fierceness and determination and pride to their nation. It is a good choice of tattoo design for brave people and those who revere samurai warriors. The samurai tattoo symbolizes the quality of bravery and strength which can be linked to the noble samurai. As a result of the rich history and cultural value attached to the Samurai, the tattoos have a lot of values that are representational. Considered noble warriors whose life mission will be to safeguard the highly-important men and women in the society, the samurai were highly valued and respected in Japanese culture.
Samurai was required to stay calm under any circumstances and focus on their duty every single moment. The samurai was very proficient in all of the skills of war. They were born to fight and protect for their country.
7) Geisha Tattoo
The Geisha (芸者), geiko (芸子) or geigi (芸妓); is an exceptionally skilled professional woman who was trained for one primary purpose, to entertain or amuse guys. They dance, would sing, or play music for men.
The Geisha tattoo is femininity and the epitome womanly charisma. It’s also considered to signify power, intrigue, and mystique, and a lot of girls will get these tattoos to signify for these meanings. A geisha was deemed to be an ideal girl/woman in their capability to maintain guys amused at all times.
The woman is recognized for her divine beauty and abilities that are amusing. Regarding the culture, it’s thought that she’s concealed from society, she’s untouchable. She’s so exceptionally symbolized; she’s unattainable. It is known the Geisha signifies desires, aspirations, ambitions, and wishes.
8) Yakuza Tattoos
This type of Japanese tattoo designs holds a strong symbolic meaning with the criminality, outlaw, and power. It’s like a unique identity for the gang members who have particular Yakuza Design inked. But, the modern Japanese are now more perceive Yakuza as an exotic tattooing art rather than linked it purely on the criminality aspects.
Japanese tattoos are known for its boldness and brightness. You can ink these tattoos anywhere on your body like shoulders, back or arms sticking to the Japanese style of tattooing or right across your back in bold design to represent their determined character and strength of mind to face challenges.