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Legendary Japanese Samurai Tattoo Meanings and Design Ideas

Japanese Samurai Tattoo Meanings and Design Ideas
Legendary tales of brave samurai are an integral part of Japanese history and culture. While, with time, those tales of bravery are fading away, a samurai tattoo can be an ideal way to pay homage to these brave warriors. ThoughtfulTattoos will take you through some amazing Japanese samurai tattoo design ideas and their meanings and significance.
Shalu Bhatti
Last Updated: Jun 7, 2017
The word 'samurai' originates from the Japanese word saburau, which means "those who serve in close attendance to the nobility." In Japanese, they are known as bushi, and their lives were governed by the 'Bushidō'―the code that consisted of the moral principles and actions that every samurai had to oblige.
Japanese artwork is perhaps one of the most admired around the world. It reflects humility and peace, and so does the tattoo of a samurai warrior! Well, most of you would have frowned upon such a contradicting sentence―a warrior reflecting peace? Yes, even though a samurai is a warrior, he fights for peace and justice. In fact, you would be surprised to know that the 13th century samurai practiced Zen Buddhism to help them calm their minds, alter their inner-self, discipline their approach towards war, and overcome the fear of killing or death.

What we love the most about samurai tattoos is the fact that they remind us of the powers that lie within us, which are usually subdued by the fear of death, pain, hardships, struggles, and humiliation. In truth, the difference between a samurai and a commoner is the lack of commitment, discipline, courage, and endurance.
Samurai in steel armor. Notice the details highlighted through shading.
Samurai tattoo on arm
Armored samurai on a horse. An elaborate tattoo indeed!
Back tattoo of a samurai riding a horse
The tattoo of a samurai helmet ... fierce!
Samurai helmet tattoo
The true spirit of a samurai!
Amazing colored samurai tattoo
Never scared to fight! Samurai in traditional clothes.
Amazing colored samurai tattoo
Some Sample Designs
Amazing colored samurai tattoo design
Artistic samurai tattoo design
Fighting samurai tattoo design
Samurai tattoo design
Samurai Tattoo Symbolism
We can go on and on about the whole association of honor, strength, courage associated with this tattoo theme. However, to understand the true essence of the life of a real samurai, we feel it is extremely important for you to know about the historical story that efficaciously raises the respect of this Japanese warrior in the eyes of everybody. Every samurai fan knows it, and if you wish to truly understand the meaning that comes along with this word, you must know it too. So, here it goes.
The Tale of Forty-seven Rônin
This true story, which was to become the greatest samurai tale in the history of Japan, began in the year 1701. Two daimyo (powerful territorial lords of Japan under whom various samurai were detailed) named Asano Takumi-no-Kami Naganori and Kamei Sama were sent by Emperor Higashiyama to the shogun's court. This was to meet Kira Kozuke-no-Suke Yoshinaka, a powerful official, who was supposed to give the two daimyo some necessary instruction pertaining to court etiquette. Kira became offended by these two lords (for reasons that vary). Some sources state that his rude behavior was a result of the inappropriate/insufficient gifts that were presented to him, while others state that it was because the Lords were against offering bribes. Nonetheless, this high official ridiculed, insulted, and humiliated the two beyond limits. While Asano managed to keep his calm, Kamei was enraged and planned to kill Kira. Sensing the fatal consequences if this plan was actually executed, Kamei's counselors secretly gave Kira a hefty amount of bribe, which made Kira's behavior polite towards Kamei but not towards Asano, in fact, it got even worse.

Asano's patience gave up when Kira called him a"country bumpkin without manners" at the main grand corridor of the residence. He took a dagger and attacked him, wounding his face (some sources say head). He was held by the guards immediately and hence Kira was saved. Although Kira was not severely hurt, this action was severe, as a result of which Asano was asked to kill himself by committing seppuku, a ritual suicide through disembowelment which was a capital punishment only meant for samurai.

After his death, his men became leaderless, and all his lands and castle were surrendered to the government. Out of the 300 samurai that were under Asano, now designated as ronin as they were leaderless) 47 ronin took a secret oath to kill Kira and avenge their master's death. Out of them was Ōishi Kuranosuke Yoshio, Asano's principal counselor. They very well knew that the outcome of their action would be death, but that didn't hold them back, for it was to be done for their master's honor.

While Kira was still on his guard and had arranged spies to keep a close eye on Asano's men, for he knew that they would plan to kill him, the forty-seven planned a perfect disguise. They pretended to give up their duty and became monks, workers, and tradesmen. For around one and a half years, they blended perfectly in the normal life, to a point that Ōishi began to drink and visit brothels to fool the spies convincingly.

Once Kira was convinced that all of Asano's samurai were bad and lacked the inclination to fight for their master, he let down his guard. This was the opportunity Ōishi and his men were looking for. One of the 47 married the daughter of the one to build Kira's house to gain access to the blueprint. Ōishi also divorced his wife and sent her and the kids away so that they could be safe. Ōishi's son chose to stay with his father in this noble mission.

Two years later, on the early morning of January 30, 1703, Ōishi and his men attacked the house, announcing it to the neighbors that they don't want to harm anyone except for Kira, and all this was done for revenge. After combating Kira's men, and sparing women and children in the house, they started looking for Kira who was nowhere to be found. Ōishi checked his bed and upon realizing that it was still warm, searched carefully, only to find a secret passage that led to a courtyard used for storing charcoal and firewood. Here was hiding a man possessed with great fear. The scar on his head from Asano's attack confirmed that it was Kira.

Ōishi knelt before him honoring his high rank and respectfully informed him that this attack is to avenge their master's death, something that a samurai must do. He respectfully requested Kira to kill himself like a true samurai and escape the dishonor of being killed by the enemy. However, Kira did not have the courage to do so. Finally, Ōishi cut off Kira's head using the same dagger that Asano used to kill himself. They took his head to the tomb of Asano and offered prayers. Irrespective of becoming heroes in the eyes of the masses, each of them was sentenced to death; however, in honor of their bravery and because they only did what true samurai should do, they were asked to die honorably by killing themselves. One of the 47 was asked to leave immediately after Kira's death to inform the others that revenge is taken. Some say he lived till the age of 87 and was pardoned by the officials for his young age. However, on the other hand, Ōishi's son was only 16 when he was ordered to kill himself by performing seppuku.

This story is the most powerful inspiration for all samurai, and they all are aware of it. All the 47 are buried along with their master at the Sengaku-ji temple. The place is a famous tourist spot where prayers are still offered to their graves.
This true incidence sums up everything that a true samurai should be, and if you were able to understand the forces that drove these 47 to go out of their way for their master, then you would also fathom the importance of a samurai tattoo.
These tattoos represent:
  • Loyalty that goes beyond death.
  • Persistence that is needed to achieve perfection.
  • Courage and bravery that ends the fear of dying.
  • Respect and honor towards others.
  • Strength and power to overcome all difficulties.
  • Nobility and frugality that comes with the responsibilities and duties of a samurai.
  • Masculinity and confidence that reflects in the way they carry themselves.
  • Self-discipline and selflessness that are needed to overcome temptations.
  • Service to others, the implication of the word 'samurai' itself
We believe that it is very important for one to understand the implication and meaning of a design in an in-depth manner before considering it as a tattoo. History has witnessed that honor was the most important part of a samurai's life. And it wouldn't be wrong to say that the one who bears this tattoo, should hold it with great honor and pride, something that every warrior deserves. This tattoo is special and only meant for those who realize its true worth.