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MAIN Arrow to Art Art & Culture Arrow to Body Art Body Art Arrow to Tattoos Tattoos Arrow to JapaneseTattoos Japanese Tattoos

Although their personal styles could not be more different, there is one thing that Britney Spears, Billy Joe Armstrong, and Angelina Jolie do have in common -- the Japanese tattoo.

In the West, the exotic look of a Japanese tattoo is the main allure that has caught on worldwide since the 1980's and has continued unabated ever since.

japanese koi tattooJapanese tattoo history

While Japanese designs are considered a cool fashion must-have, the practice of tattooing has been going on for thousands of years in Japan.

It's earliest beginnings can be traced back to Japanese prisoners who were identified with permanent tattoos, which evolved into more elaborate designs favored by a Japanese underground of prostitutes and gangsters.

From there, artisans and laborers adopted the tattoo among the working class, among them the colorful Edo firemen. They, in fact, were the first Japanese to adopt full body tattoos in a superstitious effort to protect them against danger.

By the 19th century, there was a widespread government crackdown on tattoos as "barbaric" - but the practice didn't end there. At the same time, Japan began opening up to a stream of foreigners (most notably navy men and officers) who were themselves more than willing to submit to a Japanese tattoo!

During the next century, tattoos fell out of favor in Japan and today are considered a social taboo for their association with criminals and gangsters. However, that doesn't stop the rest of the world from appreciating tattoos in the Japanese style that are outstanding for their symbolism, elegance and design.

Kanji character
for "samurai"


Today, the American version of the Japanese tattoo can be generally classified into two groups - artwork and calligraphy - with the kanji letter form tattoo becoming by far the most popular. Characters can spell out a person's name phonetically or used as a representational symbol, and may be written both vertically and horizontally.

However, among those who know the language, kanji can become somewhat of an alphabet soup of jumbled phrases and meanings (such as when Britney Spears received her first kanji tattoo. It was supposed to mean "mysterious", but instead translated most often to the Japanese as "strange".)

Little wonder, then, why experts always stress that a mere brush stroke can change the meaning of a tattoo, and strongly advise securing the services of an expert kanji tattoo studio, if only to avoid unintentionally funny gibberish!

Japenese dragon tattooDragon

To western eyes, a dragon is a mythical creature that has wings and breathes fire. But in Japanese culture, dragons are more often associated with the ocean. They have no wings and are usually covered in fish scales similar to a carp, Another way to tell if its is a Japanese dragon? They traditionally portrayed with three toes on each foot instead of five.

For centuries, the Japanese dragon has been a symbol of guardianship and bring luck and a fearless confidence to anyone associated with them.


japense koi tattoo designIn traditional Japanese artwork, the koi or carp is a classic fusion of design and meaning.

Generally, the koi is regarded throughout the Far East as a symbol of struggle and triumph and is often depicted swimming upstream.

Today, the koi remains popular among women for its delicate design, as well with men who are drawn to its "macho" symbol of strength against adversity.

Each year, the character-building message is also incorporated into the annual Children's Day celebrations in Japan with carp banners flying to mark the day in hope that kids will someday become as strong and confident as the carp!

japenese phoenix tattooPhoenix

The phoenix is popular myth in cultures around the world for its ability to rise from the ashes to begin life anew.

A symbol of rebirth and resurrection, the Japanese phoenix is more commonly called the ho-ho or ho-oo. It is depicted as a fantastical creature with a long and flowing tail, and in tattoo design is beautifully colored in different hues.


More about Japanese tattoos around the Web

Elsewhere on the Web, learn more about what else is popular in Japanese tattoo design today at a growing number of Internet photo galleries devoted to the subject. Also check out personal stories and interviews, featured video clips, and a look at the long history of tattooing in Japan with related illustrations ...


Japanese Tattoo Art - Introduction to the history of Japanese tattooing covering its early beginnings up to the present day including social class connotations, its depiction in Japanese art, related illustrations and links to more information.

Tattoo Art - Japanese Tattoos - Top-notch presentation with extensive photo galleries including information on U.S. tattoo studios specializing in Japanese dragon, koi & related designs.

Kanji Tattoos - Hundreds of pictures of Japanese calligraphy tattoos in more than a hundred galleries, but be prepared to register to view the entire collection.


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