Japanese Tattoos: Japanese Tattoo Art And History
While Japanese tattoos and traditional Japanese tattoo designs have become very popular in America and many western countries they still hold a huge negative connotation within Japan. This comes from the fact that sometime between 300 and 600 AD tattoos were used to mark criminals. This is no longer practiced today yet there are many carryovers from these early tattoo traditions. This is changing and as Japan becomes more modernized or “Westernized” many of the younger generations have discovered the deep traditions and hsitory of tattoos in their county and more and more are sporting their own tattoos and body piercings. Yet for the larger percentage of the county and anyone over 30 years of age or so tattoos are still considered as for lower class or Yakuza (The Japanese Organized Crime Gangs).
Irezumi, Horimono or Tattoo?
So what do we call a tattoo? Of course here in the west it is a very simple matter as we only have one word for tattoos and it is universally understood what is meant. However, in Japan the word tattoo can be written in a vareity of ways. Two of the most common ways are Irezumi and Horimono. Irezumi has become the most accepted word to designate the art form of tattoos. Irezumi litterall y means “insert ink” So while here in the west you will most often ehre the word”tattoo” when referring to Japanese tattooing you might come across the word “Irezumi”.
Modern Japanese Tattooing History
Between the Kofun Period and the Edo period the orgins and hsitory of tattoos and their usage becomes some what obscure. However, it is clear that tattoo came in and out of fashion during various periods of times. Tattoos were often still used to mark criminals but there are also periods of time when they became fashionable to wear.
Then finally during the Edo period the art form that we know today as Irezumi was developed. During this period of time the Japanese discovered or borrowed the art form of wood block printing from the Japanese. The Japanese artists would use chisels, gouges and ink to create these beautifully designed art works. They essentailly used their tools to carve out wood and then inked the wood with a strong permenent ink and pressed the wood block onto paper creating a art form called wood blocking. Thus the art of decorative tattooing was born.
These artists were not content just doing their work in wood or onto paper and they eventually started doing the work into skin creating the art form of Irezumi or tattooing. Amazingly enough they were able to use the same tools chisels, gouges and ink to do their tattoo work. Talk about a painful tattoo! Although interesting enough some people still practice this form tattooing today and they beleive that these tattoos have a deeper and longer lasting color then tattooing done with modern tattoo guns and inks.
It is unclear and a matter of debate who wore tattoo during the Edo period. Some scholars beleive that the mercahnt class were the ones that bore these elborate tattoos. While other beleive it was the lower clas who wore and even flautned their elborate tattoos. It is clear however, that during this period many firemen would get tattoos as a form of spirtiual protection.
Tattoos In Modern Japan
During the Meji period the Goverment offically outlawed and banned tattooing. This was done in an effortto make a good impression on the West. However, this offical ban did very little to stop tattooing. Forgieners started comming into the country to seek out highly skilled tattoo artists and the ban simply drove the art form of tattooing underground.
Then during the occuptation starting in 1945 tattoos were offically legalized. However, much of the criminal history still seems to linger on throughout today. This association with the criminal has lead much of the development of tattooing to be done underground and mainly become part of the Mafia world known as the Yakuza in Japan. In fact to this day many establishements will not allow a person with tattoos to even enter their business. Most public baths, and hot springs have ban anyone with tattoos. They feel that it willdrive fear into their customers and they will lose improtant business.
In the past decade or so many younger generations of Japanese have started getting tattoos. Many of them are not going witht he traditonal Japanese themes or designs. Nor are the using the traditonal way of getting tattoos done. Instead they are getting more Western designs like tribal tattoos and etc. Thay also tend to favor using more westernized tattooing done with a tattoo gun and inks.
The old fashioned way of getting a tattoo done with Chisels and gouges is very time consuming and costly. A typical full body suit tattoo can take between 1 to 5 years to complete (one hour or more a week) and can cost around 30,000. However, despite these factors these forms of traditional tattooing do still exsist in Japan today.