Japan is a world where you are greeted with some of the most enticing scents of exotic brewing tea, and a place where your senses will eagerly await the majestic obstacle of the cha ceremony.
The Japanese art of tattooing has many names, two of the most common being irezumi and horimono. Irezumi is the traditional word for a tattoo that is visible on the body and covers a large surface area like the back.
Due to the early influences of Buddhism and Confucianism on the Japanese people and their culture, the art of tattooing has always had a somewhat negative connotation for most. The Japanese tattoo is considered to be the mark of the yakuza, who is a member of the Japanese mafia.
The Early History
Archaeologists have said that the first few settlers of Japan, the Ainu people, used facial tattoos. As per the several documented reports date back to almost 1700 years ago, the 'Wa' people, which is the Chinese name for the Japanese people, dive into the water in search of fish and shells, and decorated their entire bodies with tattoos.
However, the Chinese culture was very highly-developed and for them, the act of tattooing was considered to be barbaric. When Buddhism was brought into Japan from China, it also brought along a very strong Chinese influence and thus, tattooing was perceived as negative. Criminals were tattooed to identify and punish them in society.
The Modern Art
Although many of the younger generation find the whole concept of tattooing fashionable and trendy, most of the Japanese population still considers it to be something that is linked to the underworld of gangsters and mafia.
Symbols and Designs
The tattoo symbolism and designs dates back as far as 5000 BC. It is also highly possible that the art of tattooing in Japan could have existed well before this date.
Japanese clay figurines that date right back to the 5th Millennia BC have also been found with their faces engraved or painted so as to represent tattoos. As far as archaeologists and historians can tell, tattoos in the olden days were believed to have held a special magical or religious meaning to the bearers.
Most of the popular kanji characters displayed today translate into a number of words and emotions such as love, happiness, laughter, wealth, lovers, beautiful, sadness, loyalty, and duty.
A koi fish tattoo swimming lazily across a woman's hip, a tiny ring of beautiful cherry blossoms fused together as an armband or at the ankle, a fierce looking emerald serpent slithering up someone's calf, or a samurai warrior and a lady embracing on a back, this art of Horimono is very wonderful.