Irezumi – Traditional Japanese tattoo


The tradition of tattoo in Japan dates back many years ago (10,000 BC) for the purpose of spiritual significance and as a symbol of rank and wealth in the community. It was during the Edo period (1600 – 1800 AD) that this form of body art advanced and flourished into what it has become today. However, tattoo in Japan has earned a negative undertone for it is a form of punishment to all criminals, thus it became a stigma to Japanese society.

Tattoo was prohibited for a while that foreigners who are fascinated by Irezumi would even travel all the way to Japan to learn the art and skill of tattoo artists underground. To a certain extent, people who wear tattoo would be denied entry to public baths, fitness centers and hot springs. Irezumi was again legalized in 1945 by occupying forces and this paved the way for tattoo and other form of body decoration to gain popularity not only in Japan but also in western countries as well.

Presently, the popular tattoo designs among the younger generation of Japanese and other western countries are of tribal pattern or small floral designs which only takes a few hours to complete. This sets the traditional Irezumi apart from the normal art of body embellishment as this body art takes sometimes years before it can achieve its desired realization and it is very expensive. Historically, traditional Irezumi is done by a specialist who labors and takes pain in perfecting the intricacies of body art for many years under the watchful eyes of an Irezumi master.



The traditional masters do not use the electric gun that is widely used today. They still use chisels, needles and spikes to carve out the skin, much like working on a block of wood. I have always been fascinated with tattoo artistry so i thought i would give it a try. My friend is a tattoo artist and i asked him to give me a lesson. The below piece took me about 3 hours to complete with some practice before hand. I used an electric gun but i hope to experiment using the traditional Irezumi technique down the track. A typical Irezumi tattoo consists of the entire back, chest, shoulder to elbow and waist to knee. Such a work of art can take between one and five years to complete and cost around $30,000 USD. I chose to start with a Koi fish because they are synonymous with Japanese culture and tradition and are though to bring good luck. I like the detail on the gills and the whispy flow of the water too.



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