The Art of Japanese Tattoo Designs

Japanese tattoo designs have been used for many years in Japan and where first made use of by people known as the Ainu who lived somewhere around 5000BC. The art of tattooing was especially well-liked in the Edo period when firemen, prostitutes and laborers used them. The designs of the Japanese came from old wood-cuts and landscape and watercolor art.

The magical translation of history and culture into tattoo art is both detailed and intricate and can therefore be expensive. Traditional Japanese tattoo design is known as horimono (meaning “carving”) or irezumi (meaning “insert ink”) which was only accepted by government in the mid 20th century.

The artists make use of bright colourful designs which include fantasy and cultural images including specific animals such as the koi or carp (fish that are associated with perseverance), legendary symbols of dragons, demons and flowers. Big, bold and brightly coloured tattoos are drawn across the entire back or shoulder or arm of a subject as these areas of the body are discrete and the tattoo can be hidden beneath clothing.

In old times one of the methods to punish criminals was to tattoo them so that they would be branded and shamed, this was called bokukei or bokkei and came to and end in 1870 by the Japanese Emperor’s new Meiji government. Japanese mafia or yakuza used tattoo’s as well and these factors have left a bad connotation for most Japanese people today. Among the youth the designs are considered fashionable.

There are a number of dragon designs to choose from which symbolize the wood element and male forces, they are listed as Asian and west dragon tattoos as the western culture has had and influence on designs over the years and the westerners also like the idea of samurai’s or warriors and the stories of Asian history and culture.

A very popular form of calligraphy is known as Kanji which are characters that translate into different things like love, life or the name of a person such as “Joy”. The picture that symbolizes justice and fidelity is that of the Phoenix, she also represents the fire element and female influences. Water, waves and clouds are often used in the backgrounds.

Japanese tattoo designs show the love and respect for life and nature that is inherent in Japanese culture. Japan frequently have events and expo’s specifically aimed at presenting the art of tattooing to the public who are then able to enjoy and utilize the designs which are filled with rich fantasy.

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