Japan tattoo style is perhaps the most popular and recognizable style of tattoos. The Japanese tradition of tattooing has been around for thousands of years, and even to this day it holds secrets and is unknown to many of us.
So, if you want to get a Japanese tattoo but are not sure about its meaning or design, then our site is the right place to learn more about them. In the following paragraphs, we’ll dive into the symbolism, meaning, and design of Japanese tattoos, so let’s get started!
Japan tattoo style: origin story
Japanese tattoos can be traced back through the ages. The earliest example was found in clay figurines from 5000 BC, on the faces of which, drawings could be made out. Another ancient reference is in Wei Zhi, a 3rd century Chinese chronicle, which mentions that people of all ages tattooed their faces and bodies with designs.
Later, in the 7th century, the art of tattooing took a different path, and body painting began to be perceived as a negative. By 720 AD, tattoos were being used as a form of punishment and branding for prisoners, criminals, and courtesans. This went on for a thousand years.
In the 18th century, the concept of tattooing took another turn. Because colorful and picturesque Ukiyo-e woodcuts were so popular in this century, tattoos in the same style became popular among people of lower social status, including criminals. Because of its history and negative connotations, Irezumi was outlawed in the country. But the masters continued their work, because the law did not prohibit tattooing foreigners.
This loophole allowed the Irezumi masters to apply their designs to foreign sailors in the 19th century. And as a result, their works and all the symbols accompanying them became available to the whole world. So the Japanese tattoo became popular all over the world and continues to be so to this day.
Common motifs and their meaning
Here are the meanings and designs of the most popular traditional Japanese style tattoos. All of them have a historical, traditional meaning, dating back to myths, legends and stories.
This is the most popular Japanese tattoo design. The dragon in this country symbolizes strength, wisdom, blessing and the power of good. The symbolism stems from the traditional belief that dragons can manipulate the elements for the benefit of humans and the good of this world.
Dragon tattoos usually vary in design, so the dragon can have the head of a camel, the body of a snake or fish, the claws of an eagle, etc.
It usually consists of elements of various animals or mythical creatures and takes up large parts of the body. Most often, the area of the “sleeve” of the arm, the area of the shoulders, the upper and lower back, and also the upper thighs.
In Japan, the tiger represents courage, longevity and strength. Although they may appear ferocious, the animals are believed to protect against bad luck, evil, and disease.
In Japan, the phoenix is the symbol of the imperial house. Therefore, the meaning of Japanese phoenix tattoos often revolves around imperial characteristics such as obedience, justice, fire, or the sun.
However, the phoenix can also symbolize both harmony and disharmony, as well as good and bad times. Phoenix is often depicted with rather large tattoos. It has a longer neck, exceptionally large wings, and often uses a color scheme of fire and sun.
Cherry blossom or sakura represent the beauty and fragility of life. It is often used in conjunction with many male tattoo themes to provide harmony, as sakura is often associated with femininity and grace.
These pink and yellow cherry blossoms bloom briefly in the spring in Japan and are one of the most important and integral parts of culture and mythology.
The story of a Koi fish swimming upstream, reaching the top of a waterfall and turning into a dragon is one of the most popular Japanese and Chinese legends.
The Koi fish is a traditional Japanese symbol of wealth, success, perseverance, courage and determination. Depending on the color of the Koi fish tattoo, it can carry a combination of different meanings. For example, such as masculinity, motherhood, strength, courage, independence, success, wealth, desire.
Skulls are known to have been used to represent a vast range of topics revolving around death, growth, and life itself. Japanese skull tattoos are unique in that they are respected and revered as a form of positive remembrance of deceased relatives and ancestors.
In Japanese culture, skull tattoos are seen as a way to show respect for the greatest progress that a person can experience. Death is revered in Japanese culture and this symbolism has spread throughout the world of tattoos.
Samurai warriors followed the practice of bushido and adhered to moral principles such as courage, honor and respect.
In times of life and death, these were the guiding values that kept them strong in times of chaos, which is why samurai warriors remain a source of interest for rival medieval knights in charm and majesty.
Geishas have played an important role in Japanese society. They were often well educated. Many of them were well trained in artistic calligraphy, painting, tea service and ikebana, as well as musical instruments.
In the world of body art, the painted face of a courtesan has become the epitome of grace, beauty, and femininity, while offering the tattoo artist a motif that can be incorporated into a wide range of interesting styles, designs, and concepts.
Tattoos of Japanese demons ( Oni ) represent strength and power. In esoteric Japanese culture, dragons and demons are related, symbolizing good luck and generosity.
These intricate and majestic tattoos give you complete control over whatever challenge comes your way. These images serve as a constant reminder of the eternal struggle between good and evil. They provide a solid foundation for understanding the struggles to be overcome.
The Hanya masks, commonly used in the Noh theater, represent the faces of demonic women cursed by their jealousy, possession, and anger. Chanya tattoos are widely popular items not only because of their historical symbolism and depictions in Japanese culture, but also because they are visually appealing.
Chania can have many different colors, but each of them reflects the woman’s social status. The white Chania tattoo depicts a woman of noble birth, and the red one depicts a provincial serf or peasant. The deepest shade of red and black is reserved for the darkest demons whose soul no longer resembles the woman it once was.
Because the original masks required meticulous care and attention to make, they are also the perfect symbols of discipline and dedication.
Color meaning in Japanese tattoo style
Color is one of the main features of a traditional Japanese tattoo. Let’s take a look at some of the basic color values;
- White is the color of death in Japan, so it usually carries a negative connotation in tattoos. However, depending on the style and design of the tattoo, white can mean things like innocence, purity, and truth. It often symbolizes a new beginning or a new chance, which is how the Japanese perceive death (as a chance for a new beginning).
- Black is one of the main colors of the Japanese tattoo style. He often portrays things like masculinity and fatherhood. In other cases, it may symbolize mourning, struggle, or the ability to overcome life’s difficulties. Black is a color often associated with Japanese underground tattooing.
- Red is the color of joy and happiness in Japanese tradition and culture. It usually symbolizes love, courage, motherhood and strength. However, depending on the style and design of the tattoo, red can carry the meaning of battle, war, and destruction, especially when paired with black or dark tones.
- Blue – Blue often symbolizes masculinity and fertility, and is used in the design of koi fish tattoos. The color also symbolizes calmness and serenity.
- Golden yellow is often used in tattoo designs such as koi fish, dragon or phoenix, golden yellow symbolizes strength, power, prosperity, wealth, luck and success.
Japanese tattoos for men
There are many different designs for this style that can be used to create a Japanese tattoo. Men can create their own tattoo that will showcase their aspirations, personal beliefs and character traits for all to see.
The designs used for Japanese tattoos are often quite gorgeous. And so you need to plan in advance the size and place of application of the future masterpiece. Depending on the size, you can apply a tattoo on the back, on the shoulder, on the arm or on the leg.
Japanese tattoos for women
Women are not so willing to get a Japanese-style tattoo, because it takes a lot of courage. Not every lady will decide to put a dragon on her entire back, or clog her sleeve with a crouching tiger smoothly moving onto her back. Most often in the female theme of this style there are images of plants and flowers. But of course there are exceptions, as you can see by looking at the photo below.
Features of Japanese Tattoo Design Style
- Rule #1 – Japanese tattoos should be bright, unique, and rich in detail.
- Rule 2 – Japanese tattoos should have a large design and usually cover large areas of the body such as the chest, sleeve area, upper and lower back, upper thigh, buttock area, etc.
- Rule #3 – Japanese tattoos should have traditional themes, symbols and characters from myths and legends.
- Rule number 4 – real Japanese tattoos must be done by hand. The tattoo artist will use a technique called Tebori.
Japan tattoo style sketches
As the theater begins with a hanger, so the desire to get a tattoo on your body begins with the search for an interesting sketch for a future project. Below we have collected for you a small number of samples that you may be interested in.
Further in the article, tattoos of this style will be presented to your attention.
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