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Published: 10.12.2013. Category: Tattoo Pictures

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Japanese tattoos have long been associated with the Yakuza, but Japanese tattoo traditions go way beyond criminality.
Tattooing in Japan reached its zenith in the 1800s, during the Edo period, a time when the power and influence of the common people was very much on the rise. Around 1870 the Japanese government outlawed tattoos in order to make a good impression on the Western world. Tattooing in Japan was legalized again in 1945 by the occupying forces, but never really lost its association with crime.
The Western style of tattoos (which they call yobori, as opposed to wabori) is popular in Japan, especially the old school style like heart, skull and rose tattoos. Although tattoos are getting more popular in Japan, they still face resistance by the Japanese cultural code. Tebori is the art of traditional Japanese hand tattooing ( as opposed to Yobori, tattooing with a tattoo machine). The advantage of tebori is that it is possible to create gradations of tone that are hard to accomplish with a tattoo machine. The dragon represents the element wood and male powers, as opposed to the phoenix, who represents the element fire and female powers. Like many other world cultures the Japanese had a traditional and distinctive version of tattoo art.


The woman of the Ainu people used tattoos to make themselves look like their goddess, so that demons (who caused diseases) would mistake them for the goddess and get scared. One way in which people chose to use their new-found wealth was to celebrate their art and culture with tattoos. As a result, Japanese tattoos went underground and became affiliated with the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia.
Even today people with tattoos are still banned from businesses like fitness centers, in an attempt to restrict the yakuza from entering their place. They are not primarily interested in traditional irezumi though, they prefer the American style of tattooing and tribals. Tattooing in Japan is also getting more attention among females than among males, something that used to be the opposite. Some of the wood carvers turned to tattooing as an adjunct to their artistic careers, others exchanged their carving-blades for tattoo needles full time as tattooing grew more popular in the 19th century. Some travel to Japan to be tattooed by a Horishi in the Tebori way (by hand), a time-intensive, painful and very expensive undertaking.
In Japan, the dragon is considered a benevolent creature and a bringer of good luck and wealth. His most famous work is Beneath the Wave of Kanagawa, and has become the standard Japanese style tattoo water.
Koi can swim against the current, that's why Japanese koi tattoos are associated with perseverance.


Yakuza members want to keep a low profile and a full body suit tattoo isn't exactly low profile. The beauty of the images created was considered a reward for enduring what was, at the time, a long and painful process. They are more interested in one-point tattoos, smaller tattoos on one part of the body that are usually done in one sitting.
The traditional Japanese tattoo style is very detailed, what makes getting a Japanese tattoo time-consuming and expensive. The dragon and the phoenix are enemies and are often depicted together in Japanese art and tattoos. Tattoos are their way of showing courage, masculinity and devotion towards the organization. Smaller tattoos in the Western style are getting more popular and some go as far as tattoo removal. People started covering up these marks of shame with more decorative tattoos and that's how the art started.



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