When we talk about tattoos, at least one thought of Japanese tattoos passes through the mind of each of us. In fact, many people believe that the art of tattooing was born right in the Far East, with those tattooed designs on the skin so full of meaning.
Actually, the art of Japanese tattooing is not as ancient as you think: it dates back to the Edo period, which goes from 1603 to 1686, so it is a relatively recent practice, compared to other traditions much older.
Another myth to dispel is that Japanese tattoos are welcome in Japan. Actually, in Japan there are many restrictions on those who have a tattoo, even a very small one.
Tourists who are not aware of this aspect are surprised to see themselves treated in a certain way in Japan, which for many other things Japan is a much more "open" country. We'll see the reason later. Now let's focus on these beautiful drawings, so full of meaning.
Japanese tattoos: style
Irezumi was born in the Edo period, irezumi is the Japanese word for the tattoo. It consists of two parts that respectively indicate ink and leather. Japanese tattoos are not born as an aesthetic, artistic or belonging to certain groups (as for example happened for old school tattoos).
Initially they were used by the lords masters of fiefs to mark the delinquents. After the prison, the shame of the crime would have accompanied them for the rest of their lives, throwing shame on them. It was another way to mark them, when the fiery iron was used in the West.
Soon, however, a real tattoo art was born, which pursues purely aesthetic purposes and is handed down from master to pupil. As with all arts, becoming a tattoo artist in Japan means having spent part of your life doing a very hard training.
At first a teacher chooses and recognizes his student, then he will spend years cleaning rooms and instruments, mixing inks, acquiring the techniques and, only subsequently, tattooing. At the end of this long training, the teacher gives his pupil a new name, preceded by the prefix HO, which means engraver.
Yakuza style tattoo by Yoshihito Nakano
Japanese tattoos and Yakuza
Outside the archipelago, Japanese tattoos are the most sought after. Beautiful shades, traditional and mystical subjects, fine lines. Not all tattoo artists are able to do them, and there are those who specialize only in this type of tattoo. Instead in their country they are frowned upon. This because they indicated - and they still do - belonging to certain criminal groups, especially to the Yakuza, the dreaded Japanese mafia.
For example, tattooed people can not enter public baths. This is to prevent them from becoming a place of crimes, even cruel. In Japan, one rule applies to everyone. This is why it happens that even Western tourists with a small tattoo are forbidden to enter a bathroom.
Tattoo by Shige
Tebori: the technique of Japanese tattoos
The peculiar technique of Japanese tattoos is called tebori, which means roughly "sculpt by hand". In fact these designs give a strong sense of three-dimensionality. It is very different from Western techniques: first of all, these tattoos are done by hand, not with traditional tattoo machines.
The tebori technique is carried out with a bamboo straw (today sterilizable materials are also used) at the ends of which needles are fixed. The master tattooist performs rhythmic movements to penetrate the skin with these needles. The process is more painful and requires more healing time, but in the end you have a real piece of art on your skin.
Japanese tattoos on the back: themes and meanings
Japanese tattoos are traditionally performed on the back: basically a white canvas on which the master tattoo artist finds a lot of space to perform his work of art. Geishas, samurai, dragons, koi fish and other traditional subjects. These tattoos are figurative, not abstract, and they see many colors and shades.
Koi fish, in particular, is a mythological fish that can ascend the Yellow River to become a dragon. This indicates good luck, luck and success, obtained after overcoming great difficulties. If it is red, it indicates passion, if success is black. If there are two, mixed as yin and yang, they represent the balance. The geisha has a complex meaning. It represents beauty and art, but at the service of others and within precise rules. It also indicates mystery and enchantment. Landscapes, often tattooed only for their beauty, have a meaning that refers to contemplation and meditation.
Japanese tattoos: flowers, waves and samurai
Some flowers are typical of Japan and immediately suggest thinking to the Rising Sun. The meanings are obviously different: the cherry blossom represents the transience of human life, the peach blossoms represent longevity. Even the chrysanthemum tattoo has the power to prolong life, the lotus flower indicates purity or, in some cases, a love disappointment and its overcoming. On the contrary, the peony indicates the joy in love, the serenity that derives from it.
The samurai, a very frequent subject, indicates a very precise code of life, linked to these warriors in the service of the ancient lords: courage, rectitude, the sense of justice, honor and virility. Related to the tradition are also the lion-dog and the Hannya mask, to be protected from evil spirits.
The great wave, inspired by the famous painting by Hokusai, is one of the most representative subjects of Japan. The great wave if tattooed, indicates the divine power, the force of nature, often indifferent to the fragility and the smallness of man, magnificent and at the same time terrible.
Small Japanese tattoos, on the arm, on the legs ... and the "written"
Not just your back: many people get Japanese tattoo subjects on their arms, legs or other points. Although traditionally the Japanese tattoo is large. Above all the flowers lend themselves to every dimension and to every point: the branches of peach or cherry fit very well on the arm, on the legs, along the back and the sides.
The "written" speech is different, which should always be called ideograms. They are modern tattoos, which refer to Japan, but which are not really tebori Japanese tattoos. But you have to be careful: first of all that is really a Japanese ideogram, then that respects the aesthetics of the ancient art of oriental calligraphy, then that really means what the tattoo artist tells us: many people have found themselves tattooed different meanings and even be taken around! As with any sentence, make sure you know what you're writing about your skin.