Tattoos in Japanese Culture

By Gregor Crawford


Nah I don’t know either. You may think the following article is going to be an article about dodgy Japanese translated tattoos, but you would be wrong my friends! The topic on hand is both deceivingly interesting and strikes a thought – tattoos in Japanese culture.

Now, before we move on, despite the rumours and the odd binge on sushi, I am in no way Japanese. I have never been to Japan nor spoke to any tattooed Japanese people (they’re incredibly hard to come by in Paisley). The information in this piece is from both personal knowledge and my good friend グーグル. Which is Japanese for Google.

Japanese tattoo art has provided some of the most beautiful ink pieces in the world. Japanese symbolism is very popular in Britain, the more noted being koi fish and lotus flowers. However, to this day, wearing a tattoo in Japan can be frowned upon, as there is a stigma attached to them, which I will explain. Yakuza is an underworld organized crime syndicate in Japan. It is common for a member (there are thought to be over 80,000 worldwide) to have a full body tattoo, known as irezumi. These tattoos are often hand-poked, a tattooing method using non-electrical handmade tools to poke ink below the skin, ouch.

When members play ‘Oicho-Kabu’ cards together, it’s often they remove their shirt or drape them around their trouser line in order to reveal their tattoos to each other This is one of very few times they can see each others ink. It is thought that when new members join up, they have to remove their trousers too, to reveal any lower body tattoos. This is known worldwide as strip poker.

Members can often be easily spotted, living up to the stereotype by wearing colorful suits and sunglasses. They can decide to dress more conservatively and flash their tattoos when the situation rises (think Rush Hour 2, Heaven on Earth Massage Parlor scene).

The art is often black and grey with splashes of empowering colour in ways of various animals, plants and symbols. The tattoos can cover from foot, leg full body and arms, leaving only the head and neck free. From a tattoo writer’s point of view, they are beautiful and personally one of my favorite styles of tattooing. If you get a chance yourself, look into pictures and photographs of the art, you’ll be mesmerized at the skill taken to be able to compose such a beautiful work of art on a person’s skin.

If you have any experiences or knowledge you’d like to share on the topic, please hit me up on the comment section below.


2 thoughts on “Tattoos in Japanese Culture

  1. check out Arian Lee’s book Bloodwork Bodies. Amazing. Worth the $299. Absolutely. only 1500 printed and still some left. I am trying to get sponsorship to photograph with a 36 camera array (AMPED 3D photographs). Full body suits are amazing.

  2. Pingback: Must See Flower Tattoos! | Grower Direct Fresh Cut Flowers Presents…

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