Neo-Japanese Tattoos – Irezumi

Japanese tattoo, also known as Irezumi is among one of the older styles of tattooing, thought to span back almost 5000 years. Looking into the history of tattoo in Japan we can see its use to depict social status as well as spiritual devotion and protection.

However, they were also used as a form of punishment for marking criminals and slaves. Eventually the practice of tattooing was banned by the Japanese emperor in the Edo period, which created a strong link to the crime world, specifically the Yakuza gang and forcing the artform underground. Certain affiliation remains and in Japan tattoo carries a certain stigma, the Irezumi style has exploded in popularity throughout the rest of the world.

Irezumi has an unmistakable aesthetic, usually depicting folklore tales, religious iconography, or animals, both real and mythological, often complimented by flowers and or leaves, creating a beautiful composition.

Coupled with the distinct beauty of this style of tattooing is a strong meaning behind the various symbols and images, allowing the wearer of these beautiful tattoos to tell their own story through the ink on their skin. The following is some of the more popular traditional motifs that stem from myths, legends, and traditional stories.

Japanese Tattoo Designs and Styles

Ryn Tattoo – Japanese Dragon

One of the most popular designs in Japanese tattoo, symbolizing strength, wisdom, and the force of good.

Koi Fish Tattoo – Carp

A traditional symbol of wealth, success and the ability to overcome struggles. There is a very popular Japanese legend of the koi swimming upstream reaching the top of a waterfall and being turned into a dragon, which represents courage and determination.

Foo Dog Tattoo– Japanese Lion      

The symbolism refers to courage, protection, strength, bravery. Often protecting the gates of a temple.

Hebi Tattoo – Japanese Snake

Carrying the meaning of rebirth, change, and transformation as a snake is known for shedding its skin.

Hou-ou Tattoo – Japanese Phoenix

In Japan a phoenix is a symbol of the imperial household, therefore the meaning often translates to justice, obedience, fire, and sun. In western use it also represents rebirth, “born from the ashes”.

Kappa Tattoo – Japanese Turtle

Kappa’s described as troublemakers and lawbreakers, they apparently kidnap children and assault women. Seems like an unusual choice for a tattoo, but they are depicted with a water a water filled cavity on top of their head, when dried up they are powerless.

Tengu Tattoo – Japanese Ghost

Often coloured red or black with demonic features and elongated noses to emphasis their sinister appearance. They carry a meaning of war and destruction.

Tora Tattoo – Japanese Tiger

A symbol of courage and strength considered a rival to the dragon which can be used simultaneously to balance character.

Chrysanthemum Tattoo – Kiku

The family crest of the imperial Japanese court, legend has it chrysanthemums bring long life.

Cherry Blossom Tattoo

The most beloved flowers of the Japanese representing they yearly cycle of nature. Various types include somei-yoshino (mountain cherries) and shidare sakura – weeping cherries.

Peony Tattoo – Botan

Originally from China, it represents nobility and affluence, often seen in conjunction with butterflies and lions in art.

Lotus Tattoo – Hasu

Blooming in muddy marshes and ponds, giving the idea that beauty can arise from darkness. Also a symbol for truth, faith, a pure soul and spiritual awakening.

Butterfly Tattoo – Cho

Representing rebirth or metamorphosis, butterflies are said to be shape shifting spirits.

Waves Tattoo – Nami

Another lucky image, often used as a background in tattoos, the swell and flow of the sea is said to represent longevity and eternity.

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