Saturday, February 14, 2009

Irezumi the Art and Design of Japanese Tattoos

Japanese tattoos are regaining their popularity again amongst the middle classes. Ironically young Japanese people are going for tattoo designs that can be completed in one sitting such as the traditional American style tattoos or tribal tattoos. Traditional irezumi is still done by specialist tattooists. Because Japanese tattoos are so detailed they are also very time intensive and expensive. A traditional 'body suit' (covering the arms, back, upper legs and chest can take up to five years of once-a-week visits to complete and cost more than US$30,000 to complete!

Japanese tattoos - Full Body Suit

© Tao of Tattoos

Japanese tattoos are referred to in Japanese as irezumi which literally means the insertion of ink under the skin leaving a permanent mark or tattoo. Tattooing in Japan is thought to extend back to at least 10,000 years. The Ainu people, the indigenous people of Japan, are known to have used tattoos for decorative and social purposes for many thousands of years.

Full back piece Japanese tattoo on female

© Tao of Tattoos

At the beginning of the Meiji period (running from around about 1868 to 1912) the Japanese government, wanting to project an image of a modern Japan to the west, outlawed tattoos, and irezumi took on connotations of criminality. Nevertheless, fascinated foreigners went to Japan seeking the skills of tattoo artists, and traditional tattooing continued underground.

Modern Japanese tattoo artist

© Tao of Tattoos

Tattooing was legalized by the occupation forces in 1945, but unfortunately has kept a lot of its association with criminality. For many years, traditional Japanese tattoos were associated with the Yakuza, Japan's notorious mafia, and many businesses in Japan (such as public baths, fitness centers and hot springs) still ban customers with tattoos.

Japanese tattoo artist in Melbourne Tattoo Convention

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