JAPANESE TATTOO MEANING #1
Irezumi (刺青) means tattoo in Japanese and has existed since the late Edo era (300/400 years ago).
There are additional Japanese words with same meaning such as Horimono, Shisei, Monmon, Gaman, however Irezumi is most commonly used. Irezumi is now used to refer to traditional Japanese tattoos. Someone uses the term “irezmi tattoo” is wrong. Also Irezumi does not related oriental tattoo, Japanese “style” tattoo, Japanese temple tattoo, etc.
The literal translation of Irezumi is 刺 poke 青 blue. Traditional Japanese Sumi ink turns a beautiful blue-black color after the ink goes into the skin.
Irezumi can be found in two forms 2 of Kanji (logographic Japanese writing style) 刺青 (poke blue) and 入れ墨. Which means punishment for crime. These words tend to be confused in recent years. But at the time, people used different words for different purposes depending on whether tattooed for decoration. (文身 Bunshin, 彫り物 Horimono) or punishment(入れ墨 Irezumi). *The term of 刺青 Irezumi used for decolative tattoo since Meiji period by nobel writer Tanizaki Junichirou.
There are several reasons as to why the Japanese started make Irezumi. One of the reasons is:
During a time when the much of the Japanese public were frustrated with the Daimyo’s (government) tyrannical administration. A character called Kuniyoshi Utagawa developed the Ukiyo-e series “水滸伝百八人之一個 108 Heroes of Suikoden“.
The series consisted of 108 tough guys with tattoos of Japanese motifs. Who gathered at Ryozanpaku (Dojo home to elite fighters who specialize in different styles of martial arts) to ridicule and dismiss corrupt officials.
The series became popular among the people, and in turn Irezumi became popular for the purpose of decorating the body. Especially among trained by manual workers, mainly firemen.
In the Edo period, firemen used to wear a kimono called a Sashiko Banten soaked with water to the scene of a fire. Some of them had a sashiko hanten with luxurious embroidery on the lining (such as dragons). And after controlling the fire. They would turn it inside out to show off the embroidery and gallantly leave the scene of the fire like a kind of hero.
When the tattoo culture began to flourish, some firefighters began to tattooed on their skin intead of Sashiko Banten. Some firemen went to the fire with their upper body naked, exposing their tattoos for the sake of masculinity and chic.
There is also a theory the tattoo that covers an entire body part such as sleeve tattoo called Gakubori. It created for people with criminal records to cover up their punishment tattoos for get job or avoid discrimination.
Also, Gakubori has a blank area between and at the edge of the background called Asenuki. Which proof to not for cover up a punishment tattoo and no criminal record.
From Meiji era (1868-1912), Japan opened its borders to the outside world and the Japan government moved toward modernisation. They banned some traditions such as Irezumi and Ohaguro(black teeth). But there are records of the British royal family and the Russian emperor. They got traditional Japanese tattoos when they visited Japan at that time.
After World War II, the ban on tattoos in Japan was lifted again by GHQ. However, after that, movie companies released a series of yakuza movies. And the mainstream media reported irregularly and persistently on tattoos. They create a bad impression of them leading to a false prejudice against tattoos among the Japanese people.
According to my predecessor Takehisa Muramatsu(Honke Horiyoshi aka Kensho 1st). At least in his father’s(Yoshitsugu Muramatsu: Horiyoshi 1st) workplace area. There were not many gangs had tattoos before yakuza movies has released at that time.
In 2015, one tattoo artist arrested by tattooing for violating the Medical Practitioners Act.
He were fought against the government on the court. And the Supreme Court ruled on September 16th 2020 that tattooing does not constitute a medical practice. And the case was won.