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133 Traditional Japanese Tattoo Designs And Their Meanings

Tattoo art has won many a heart the world over, with some designs being more popular as compared to others. One of the most fascinating design options is Japanese tattoo designs, which have a rich legacy of history and tradition behind them. Most of the Japanese tattoos are big in design and cover a large surface area and the designs are distinctive too. The artists from this country are very skilful and carry the most amazing skills, passed on from generation to generation. They have the ability to depict intricate details, even the shadows in their wonderful designs.

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Meanings of Japanese Tattoos

Japanese tattoos are unique in the context that each and every tattoo in this culture has a meaning to depict, which makes these as popular outside the country as they are within it. The images and symbols reflect a particular meaning in this art form. The most important thing for the tattoo bearer is to make an in depth study of the meaning of tattoo design before actually having it etched, as he is going to invest a lot of money and time on it and the tattoo is probably going to be a part of him forever. The design elements included in Japanese tattoo art are termed as motifs, each one having its own meaning, which can be immediately associated with it as a person looks at it.

History of Japanese Tattoos

Japanese tattoos have a glorious history which dates back to 10000 BC. The legend goes that tattoos were first used by the Ainu tribe, where women had them etched on their upper lip. The motive behind this was that they made them resemble goddesses, which would ward off demons and disease. The small tattoos would be made at an early age and would increase in size as the bearer grew up. Later on, tattoos played an important role in social and religious ceremonies and they also indicated social status and standing of a person. Then, after 300 AD, a practice called bokkei started in Japan, whereby criminals were marked with tattoos and the practice continues till 1870. The criminals who already had such tattoos took them as a symbol of shame and used decorative tattoos to camouflage these designs. This was the period, after the end of World War II, when this art was banned by the Japanese authorities and it became associated with the country’s mafia, known by the name of Yakuza. The art made a comeback in 1945, but somewhere along the way, they still bear a relationship with crime and criminals. Though these designs are popular among the Western tattoo lovers, there are some places in Japan where they are not considered preferable, such as fitness centers, to ensure that the yakuza do not get access to the place. There is a sort of cultural code in the country, which forbids use of tattoos by the common people, who have nothing to do with crime and criminals. Currently, tattoos are a rage among the youth in the country, though they are more inclined towards modern Western designs rather than the traditional Japanese ones.

The tribal designs and old school tattoos are particularly popular among the youth, as they consider them to be style icons. The way devised by the youth to present this fashion statement, yet not invite the wrath of their cultural leaders, is to opt for temporary tattoos such as henna rather than permanent ones. The Japanese culture has been revered for its quality of patience and dedication, which also manifests itself in all forms of art of this culture, including tattoo art. This is the reason why most of the Japanese tattoo designs are considered as pieces of art, with abundant beauty and charm.

Symbols used in Japanese Tattoo Designs

  • Japanese Dragon Tattoo – In Japanese culture, a dragon stands for wisdom, strength and power and it is seen in a positive context, as opposed to the Western world. They are regarded as benevolent creatures which work for the good of the humanity. For this reason, along with its aesthetic value, Japanese dragon tattoos have found great popularity right from the early times. Some tattoos may also feature dragons along with the phoenix, which is considered its enemy in the Japanese tradition and legend. The mythological bird is used to represent justice and feminine force.
  • Japanese Koi Tattoo – Koi fish is another important design in Japanese tattoo art. The fish represents determination, courage and desire for success. The fish, which is a type of carp, is considered to have masculine attributes according to the Japanese folklore. It has the ability to swim against the current and is an epitome of patience and determination.
  • Japanese Tiger Tattoo – The tiger is regarded as a sacred animal in the Japanese culture, which imparts strength, courage and good luck. Accordingly, tiger tattoos occupy an important place in the Japanese tattoo art.
  • Japanese Lion Tattoo – Lions are bold, strong and courageous animals and these tattoos which feature the animal in them stand for bravery and heroism.
  • Japanese Skull Tattoo – Skull is another design element, which is as popular in Japanese culture as it is in Western culture. It can depict death as well as represent the cycle of life and death in a positive light.
  • Japanese Yakuza Tattoo – Yakuza stands for the Japanese mafia and most of the members of the community are tattooed. They bear these tattoos to depict their masculinity as well as devotion to the gang.
  • Japanese Kanji Tattoo – Another popular Japanese tattoo is the Kanji design, which is the lettering used as a part of this language. These tattoos have an amazing aesthetic value as they incorporate intricate designs with flowers and petals.
  • Japanese Wave Tattoo – Japan is the home to the destructive tsunamis or tidal waves and the country has always shown great determination, coming back strong after each destructive event. Similarly, the wave tattoo stands for courage, strength and survival in the most adverse situation. Moreover, water stands for strength, life and fluidity, all of which are represented by wave designs.

Summary

Japanese tattoos have a unique value to them as they immediately stand apart from other designs. The tattoos are standing ovation to the great history and legend of the country, with elements such as koi fish, tiger, waves, kanji and dragon making an integral part of the tattoo art. These tattoos also have a long standing association with the Japanese mafia or the Yakuza.

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