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 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
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.
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!
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.
In 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!
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 ...
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.
Art - Japanese Tattoos - Top-notch presentation with
extensive photo galleries including information on U.S. tattoo
studios specializing in Japanese dragon, koi & related
Tattoos - Hundreds of pictures of Japanese calligraphy
tattoos in more than a hundred galleries, but be prepared
to register to view the entire collection.