Recommended Artist for Japanese Style Tattoos: Paul, Kassaundra, Quinn
Japanese Style tattoos are a dynamic style of tattooing. Also known as Irezumi, the Japanese style dates back between 1603 and 1868 and became very popular among the merchant class of Japan. The tattoos themselves are usually dealing with Japan legends such as heroes and mythical creatures like dragons, and phoenixes. Japanese tattoos were originally done by hand using wooden handles and metal needles attached via silk threads.
Elements in Japanese Tattoos
Today Japanese style tattoos are mostly represented using dragons, koi fish, various other animals or creatures each having a specific meaning or story that applies to the individual wearing them. Sleeves or large pieces are used to depict someone’s journey in life while using different elements and creatures they were telling their story through the art. A few examples of some more popular elements are listed below.
Dragons are the most popular creature in western Japanese style tattoos, but they usually hold a different meaning depending on what side of the world you are living in. In the west dragons symbolize strength, ferocity, and wealth. In the Eastern side of the world, the dragon was not viewed as a beast that needed to be slain or sat upon a wealth of treasures. Dragons were generous, benevolent, wise, and considered guardians.
The view of the dragon symbolization is with the person. So whether you see a dragon as a ferocious beast that is not to be messed with, or a generous and wise creature a dragon can not only be a stunning addition to a Japanese piece but also carry heavy meaning.
Koi fish were the most popular design in traditional Japanese art. Koi got their characteristics from China where they are a native fish.
Koi symbolizes strength, determination, courage, desire for success, and bravery in the east. It was believed that the Koi of China would swim upstream to a certain point known as “Dragon’s Gate”. Not many of the Koi fish could do so but the ones that did were rewarded greatly by turning into dragons.
A Koi fish is appropriate for those who have faced a struggle in life and conquered it. Leaving a better person on the other side.
Most people know the mythical creature called the Phoenix. A rare bird that upon death catches fire and leaves nothing but a pile of ash, but from the ash a new phoenix is born.
The Phoenix is one of the few mythological creatures that actually span throughout history from Greek and Roman to present day mythologies. This is due to the timeless and inspirational story the phoenix holds that even when times are tough and dark, there is hope that you will be reborn again. In Japanese tattoos the phoenix is used as a symbol for rebirth or triumph.
The Phoenix is common for those who have recreated themselves out of the ashes of tragedy to becoming a stronger and wiser person.
Also known as the demon mask in Japanese folklore, Oni’s are known as demons commonly punishing the unjust and evil and spreading diseases.
Not all Oni’s were bad entities, some were also good and seen as protectors. One of those scenarios where they were doing a bad job to bad people, but in doing so were helping the good people. The Oni actually is closer to ogres or trolls, rather than demons. In Japanese tattoos the mask of a Oni is usually used to symbolize good and evil, protectors, or tricksters.
Similar to the Dragon, an Oni’s presence in Japanese tattoos can mean complete opposites depending on the person. We aren’t really clear why the Oni started being inked onto the skin maybe it was to appease the evil, or maybe they were viewed as a necessary evil in the world.
Tigers, Lions/Fu-Dog, Snake
The last elements we will cover have similar meaning in Japanese tattoos. The lion/fu-dog, snake, and tiger all represent strength, courage, and protection. Where in Japanese folklore each had a separate part in terms of symbolism in tattoos they are used to depict similar meanings. Tiger’s, in folklore, were said to control the wind and were one of the four sacred animals of the culture.
The lion/fu-dog is a unique looking creature, almost a cross between the two animals used to symbolize the wearer is a courageous person with heroic aspirations. The snake was used to portray not only the characteristics listed above but also represented the divine feminine, or the holy female attributes, the Japanese believed a woman could take on the positive attributes of a man if they so desired.
Those viewed as courageous guardians of family or just want some luck warding away evil. Snakes, Tigers, Lions, and Fu-Dogs might be something to consider.