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Mythical beasts are also commonly found in irezumi designs, the most popular being the dragon. To this day, the artist known as Horiyoshi III is the undisputed master of irezumi and still works today in his studio in Yokohoma, Japan.
Compare the tone of these videos about Horiyoshi III to this clip of an episode of The National Geografic Channel's Taboo. Tip: To turn text into a link, highlight the text, then click on a page or file from the list above. There are several ways to write the word, the most common using the Chinese characters literally meaning "insert ink".
This is supported by archeological studies of figurines found from this era decorated with distinctive chord marked patterns on their faces and bodies.


This development can be greatly attributed to the arrival of Japanese woodblock art and more importantly, the release of the novel Suikoden, wherein woodblock illustrations portray warriors covered in lavish tattoos depicting dragons and other mythical beasts, flowers, tigers, and religious symbols.
Each warrior has individual qualities that appeal to the wearer, for example, the Yakuza often choose renegade warriors known for their ferocity and disregard for common law. The dragon represents wealth and is also believed to protect one from fire, being a beast of both air and water.
He has published numerous sketch books, including 36 Ghosts, 108 Heroes of Suikoden, 100 Demons, and The Namakubi (a collection of drawings depicting severed heads).
The novel's immediate success leads to an enormous growth in demand for this type of tattoo. However, it is the tradition of the Yakuza to completely cover their tattoos in public, believeing that such art should only be viewed in private.


The Japanese dragon has the talons of an eagle, the antlers of a deer, the nose of a goblin, and is almost always depicted with whiskers or a moustache.
In legend the Koi are transformed through their efforts and perseverance, many times turning into dragons. Though irezumi is the distinct characteristic of the Yakuza, they are not the only ones who choose to wear these elaborate tattoos.



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