Exploring the History of Yakuza Tattoos

Looking into the history of Yakuza tattoos gives you a rich and valuable understanding of the tradition and its meanings. The tattoos are designed to be a full body shield that includes intricate designs and has subtleties that are striking with the combination of tones and colors. The Shogun’s in the history of Japan is where the designs were prominent. Over the years the meaning has changed, but the powerful message has not.

The original ink designs were given to criminals to designate their status. This was meant to be a mark of shame provided to them. The more crimes committed, the more they were marked. Most often, they would begin as an armband. Additional bands were added when they were convicted of future crimes.

The first known time they appeared was in the seventeenth century. During this time, samurai were employed and loyal to one master. Should that master die or be killed, the remaining samurai would become ronin. This means they served no master, and often contributed to their petty crimes.

They were considered to be like Robin Hood because they often would only steal from the rich. Since they were very skilled at gaining entry to homes and palaces, they put their skills to work by robbing the rich and often giving the spoils to the poor or servants. A large group existed and began to form groups that eventually became very well organized.

Organized crime was the result of these highly skilled criminals. In time, a boss would be selected and the Yakuza was formed. The tattoos became a symbol of loyalty to the boss. Even today, those in the organization are expected to be loyal till death.

The markings are now a symbol of pride instead of shame as intended. The ink is applied by being tapped into the skin with a needle attached to a wooden handle. The skill takes years to accomplish and often cannot be duplicated with modern equipment. It is very painful and can cost over $100,000 to be created over two years. The hands and face are often the only area that is not covered in the ink drawings.

Understanding the history of Yakuza tattoos provides insight into the story of symbols of shame becoming symbols of pride. The loyalty that is represented indicates a very strong and tight organization the numbers over 80,000 individuals. Though they were originally common criminals, they are now a powerful organization that has one of the oldest ongoing stories.

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