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Protected by a hard shell, equipped to navigate both land and water, capable of crossing oceans and exceptionally long-lived, it is no wonder that the turtle has been revered for thousands of years by cultures all over the world as a symbol of strength, stability and stamina. Although tattoo art has been embraced by numerous cultures throughout history, nowhere has the sea turtle been associated with tattoos more than in the Pacific Islands. The art of tattooing has been prevalent on almost every shore of the Pacific, but achieved particular significance in Polynesia, the area defined by Hawaii in the north, New Zealand to the west, and Easter Island to the east. Where a person stood in the hierarchical society of Polynesia was determined by their current role in the tribe, as well as by their genealogy and maturity. Shark, lizard and turtle tattoo designs were primary symbols, used throughout Polynesian society.
One Hawaiian myth says that it was "Honu" (Hawaiian for turtle) who guided the first inhabitants of Hawaii to their new home. Although there are alternate myths, a reverence for the turtle's prowess in navigation is part of the Hawaiian culture. Capable of laying a hundred eggs at one time, they are viewed as symbols of fertility and creation.
The sea turtle's ability to return home connects them with guidance, good luck and faithfulness.
Their slow movement has some negative connotations, such as the decreased mobility of old age, but primarily the slow, dogged movement of turtles denotes steadfastness, as in Aesop's fable of the tortoise winning the race against the hare. A Japanese girl strolling around London streets showing of her tattoos during the 5th International London Tattoo Convention.
Mikey, it is because in Japan it is mostly yakuza (gangsters) that are heavily tattooed and most onsens are family establishments that don’t want to be seen as associating with gangsters and their customers would not want contact with yakuza either.
Imagine the onsen employee who draws the short straw and has to go tell the tattooed yakuza boss and his cronies that no, they’re not welcome in the bath. I remember being approached by a very tattooed gent in my local sento in Otsu when my wife and I visited one time. These elements should give you an excellent starting point to visualize the look of your next tattoo rather than arbitrarily seeking a Japanese tattoo design.
Another common misconception is that the Dragon is a fire breathing, cave-lurking, selfish, and terrifying creature.


The Hebi is another supernatural depiction that is said to represent a wide range of beliefs including protection against illness, disaster, and bad fortune.
If you’re looking for more inspiration for your next Japanese tattoo idea, head over to our Japanese tattoo gallery. Covering one third of the planet, the Pacific Ocean is the realm of the sea turtle, and upon every land mass that the turtle has visited, legends and myths have arisen about the singular creature.
Mohawk mythology ascribes earthquakes to the great World Turtle, stretching in reaction to bearing the weight of the world.
As a culture with no writing, the Polynesians not only used tattoos as talismans of protection and spirituality, but as a way to exhibit their status. An ancient petroglyph that depicts a turtle with a vertical line drawn down its shell supports this mythology.
Ancient Hawaiians believed that their "Aumakua" (guardian spirits) could take the shape of a variety of animals, including the turtle.
The curved, intact nature of the turtle shape makes it a good artistic choice for shoulder designs. These turtles are generally depicted cheerfully, viewed as a symbol that a positive attitude and determined effort spell success in life. Probably this girl would have problems if she tries to go to onsens here in Japan, as it is forbidden to enter in most of the onsens if you have a tattoo. There must have been some people in that crowd who were looking at her front and probably weren’t thinking only about her tatoos.
Instead of posting specific Japanese tattoo ideas and tattoo designs, we’ve decided to give you a listing of 10 popular Japanese tattoo elements that you can use for inspiration. The flower is portrayed as a symbol of perfection – usually depicted with petals radiating like flames from the sun, the centre representing the Emperor’s status in the social climate. Fearsome and supernatural, they are said to represent a belief in the spirit world in which Oni carry out the role of punishing the unjust and evil. In reality, the Japanese culture views the Dragon as a representation of wisdom and strength, as well a power that can manipulate the universe for the benefit of people.
It’s an accurate representation as the character is in fact a lion symbolizing protection and courage, rather than that of a dog.


The Cherry Blossom lifecycle (flowering, quickly fading, and scattering of petals in the wind) is said to be a powerful symbolic mechanism for our own lives. Oddly enough, for each culture the symbolic meaning remains the same; that of resurrection, triumph, rebirth, and fire.
Often referred to as the King of Flowers, or rose without thorns, the peony takes on a much different conotation in Japanese culture – A masculine devil-may-care attitude, rather than a feminine quality.
Here you can find a collection of amazing Japanese tattoos from the best tattoo artists in the world. A tribal turtle tattoo might have had a more significant meaning to one tribe than another, gaining particular importance through an association to family genealogy.
A 19th century missionary to Polynesia recorded that Pa te Pou Ariki, Chief of the Takitumu tribe in Rarotonga (one of the Cook Islands) had turtle tattoos on both knees. It is said the great turtle Kailua would turn into a human female and appear to protect children playing on the beach from danger. Nice guy (to me and that time, at least) and someone who must have had stories that I’d have loved to hear.
Oni, are often confused with the popular Hannya Mask which a traditional Japanese prop used by actors of Noh theatre in the 14th century.
While others view the symbol as an acceptance of fate for a punishment if they are not living a righteous life. The missionary noted that the turtle symbol was "reserved for the chief alone," indicating that the turtle was deeply associated with the chief's genealogy. No matter how you interpret it, the Namakubi is a striking image that should be used wisely due to it’s significant meaning.



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