Traditional Japanese tattoos are called Horimono. This art form became popular with the working classes in the latter half of the Edo Period (in the 18th century). As the common people rejected the old Confucian beliefs of the Samurai, they began to enjoy novels, drama, songs and theatre. The Japanese tattoos were styled after woodcut prints of heroes in the books and publications of that time, and themes were based in human experience and feeling. Some common motifs in Japanese tattoos are koi fish, tigers, dragons, phoenix, and lotus flowers. Kanji characters are also used as pictograms to tell a story, similar to Egyptian use of hieroglyphics.
Japanese tattoo designs capture beautiful landscapes, fierce dragons, large blossoms, and swift samurais. One could get an elegant koi swimming across a thigh or a cherry blossom blooming on a calf. Soon enough you will have a kimono of Japanese inspired tattoos. Tattooing in Japan was originally inspired by woodblock carvers who would design elaborate motifs and images for books and advertisements in the mid 1800’s. Classical tattooing began conforming to certain designs and motifs depicting brave warriors, religious iconography, and an array of floral and animal pieces. The woodblock artist would draw the design on an individual’s body and then the tattooist would make it permanent. These tattoos would cover up the entire body with the exception of the head, the hands, and the feet. Over time cultural influences from China made tattoos a taboo and required inked individuals to live as outcasts of society. By the end of the 17th century Japanese officials had stopped marking criminals with tattoos and tattooing as an art from began to emerge. Firefighters began tattooing images of water as protective amulets against the dangerous flames. Criminals started covering up their tattoos with beautiful images of blossoms and flowers. Criminals belonging to the Yakuza started getting these tattoos around this time and the tradition began forming. Tattoo artists in Japan were considered craftsmen who underwent rigorous 5 year apprenticeships. Since Japanese tattoos were based around the cultural traditions the images that emerged were based on accurate accounts of the surroundings. A snake would never be tattooed with a cherry blossom because they hibernate during that time of the year. Japanese tattoos tell a story through a single image that can reveal a lot about the wearer. They take time and commitment but no tattoo has the same allure as Japanese tattoos.