People get tattoos for many reasons: to honor a loved one, to express a desire or goal, to remember the past, or simply to show off their personality. Japanese Irezumi is an often misunderstood form of body art. It is an art form full of meaning and ceremony with an often painful application.
Japanese Irezumi originated in the early 1600’s in Japan. Before that point, tattooing was done with symbolism rather than with imagery. Irezumi began when people started to apply tattoos as decoration. Traditional Japanese Irezumi includes images of flowers, fish, mythical creatures, or scenes of nature.
All of those images have a certain meaning. For example, the dragon represents wisdom and strength. The more colorfully designed the Irezumi tattoo, the older the dragon is. When the image is paired with other features like fire or an open mouth, each of those characteristics also have meaning. Other designs include koi fish, which celebrates the masculinity of the fish in a mythical story; the snake, which is thought to have supernatural abilities and in turn give the wearer that strength; and the maple leaf, which symbolizes love and the passing of time.
Irezumi reflects an aspiration to life goals. Many bear the images of Irezumi body art as a way to represent the suffering that was once inflicted; conversely, Irezumi tattoos show ambitions for the future.
Applying a Japanese Irezumi tattoo is often a painful process. The ink is inserted under the skin with a black ink that turns a lighter blue once applied. Often, the tattoos are not applied in one sitting: because it is a long and costly process, many return several times to add more color and designs.
Body Art Professional Organizations
Association for Professional Piercers is an international non-profit association dedicated to the dissemination of vital health and safety information related to body piercing to piercers, health care providers and the general public.
Alliance of Professional Tattooist, is a non-profit educational organization founded in 1992 to address the health and safety issues facing the tattoo industry.