Facts of the Week
Tattoos in Japan
It is more common to know that you are less likely to be accepted in Japan if you have a tattoo. But is there more to it than just a disgrace or a representation of something obscene? What is the real reason behind this? In this day and age, how does modern Japan view tattoos?
1.Irezumi (入れ墨), horimono (彫り物), shisei (刺青), and tattoo (タトゥー) all mean tattoo. Irezumi is more commonly used. The word irezumi (刺青) can be also read as shisei. This way of reading was spread from the novel “Shisei” that Junichirou Tanizaki published in 1910. Junichirou Tanizaki is a Japanese novelist who is one of the early pioneers of the aestheticism movement. In the novel “Shisei”, a tattoo artist, a man, tattoos a female spider on a woman with the most perfect skin he has ever seen. This novel became so popular that the Chinese characters of shisei (刺青) were read as Irezumi, meaning tattoo.
2.There is a distinction between Western and Japanese tattoos. Japanese tattoos that have Japanese designs are called wabori (和彫り). Western tattoos that have western designs are called youbori (洋彫り). It is not a distinction between tattooing techniques.
It is significantly more painful being used by a bamboo stick filled with needles and it will take twice as long as with a standard tattoo machine. Wabori tattoo designs are influenced from Buddhism and Chinese/Japanese mythology. There is a master artist located in Osaka Japan. The 60-year-old, Sensei Hori Hiro, is one of the few trained masters still practicing today (over 33 years of experience). All his tools are handcrafted. The “bamboo sticks” as we foreigners call them, are carved from persimmon trees into a pencil like shape that is comforting to the hand of the user. Silk needles are then wrapped and firmly tied to the end of the wood. The needless are always replaced before the use of every new body/canvas. How cool is that? To find out more, check out http://www.hashitout.com/irezumi-my-experience-in-getting-a-traditional-japanese-wabori-bamboo-tattoo/
P.S Check out “Wabori: Traditional Japanese Tattoo” by Manami Okazaki ☺
They are basically western tattoo designs. Butterflies, flowers, crosses, skulls, angels, devils, names of loved ones, quotes, you name it. If it’s not something seen on a Yakuza tattoo–i.e., wabori–it’s mostly called youbori. Need I say more?
3. In the Edo period, Buddhist priests tattooed themselves to show their devotion and also to receive spiritual protection from Buddhist deities. In an old tale, Miminashi Houichi (耳なし芳一), is about a priest who encounters an evil spirit, and attempts to fight it away by writing sutras all over his body. However he did not write it on his ears and the spirits took them away. How scary! In addition, Yuujyo, sex workers in the Edo period, used tattoos to show their romantic devotion to their regular customers. These tattoos would often start with the customer’s name, and end with inochi (命). The tattoo would be directly translated to “I devote my life to (customer’s name)”.
4. In modern times, though tattoos are not negatively viewed as compared to the past, tattoos are still stigmatised in the mainstream. For an example, some companies will not hire you no matter how talented you are simply because of that tattoo you have on your back. Also, some public baths in Japan also does not allow anyone with a tattoo to stay in.