Irezumi or (better said) Horimono

Since I’m interested in Japanese culture and especially art, it is no wonder I came across this unique and interresting art preserved by very few individuals. 

The art of irezumi (or more respectively named horimono) as it is known today is connected to the development of woodblock printing art and the release of a chinese novel ‘Suikoden‘, a tale of brave rebels, which was illustrated with lavish prints that depicted the heroes with large tattoos. Dragons, flowers, tigers and religious motifs were the most common and soon the actors in kabuki theater began to copy the image of those heroes.The symbolism of the motifs borrow from literature, chinese culture and distinctive Japanese beliefs and folklore:
Chrysanthemum – the symbol of persistence and resolution.
Peony – the symbol of success and wealth.
Sakura flowers – the symbol of time and fragility of being.
Maple leaf – it has the same meaning as a red rose in Europe
Dragon – symbolises power and rule, and unites fire and water.
Carp – associated with courage and stoicism.
Tiger – the symbol of fearlessness. Traditional Japanese tattoo is executed in five steps:

The first step (suzi) – the outline is inked.
The second step – outlining and fixing the shape of the tattoo by one – four needles with black ink.
The third step – based on skin pricking with many needles – this allows to reach the desired composition of colour and tone.
The fourth step (tsuki-hari) consists of skin-deep pricking using not many needles without shading. Needles are pricked by light blows of palms.
The fifth step, the most painful and technically complicated, includes deep pricking that is totally controlled by tattoist.

Currently tattoo art has a negative connotation for the majority of the Japanese people. In the eyes of average Japanese a tattoo is considered a mark of a yakuza – a member of the Japanese mafia – or a macho symbol of members of the lower classes. People with tattoos are likely to be stigmatized and regarded as misfits in Japanese society, often banned from fitness studios and bathhouses called onsen. It is slowly changing though…I remember that one German punk has a contract with one Japanese clothes store for their advertisments – the tattos he has on his arms are fascinating to the Japanese and since he is from Europe, there is no danger of him being a member of the Jakuza. It is also refreshingly different that he shows the tattos when he walks outdoors there and does not intimidate other people with doing so.

It is interesting that the recent surge of interest in body design in Japan does not seem to be continuing the Japanese traditions, though. Rather than meticulously hand-pricked large, flowing, Japanese designs, young people in Japan are opting to be tattooed with small Western style designs such as Disney characters, skulls and crossbones, bleeding hearts or modernized versions of Japanese designs. 

What about my country?

The idea of a full body tattoo is new, unusual and discomfiting in my homeland and I think many of the nice ladies on the streets would make a wide bend across the street if they ever saw a man or a woman sporting such a large tattoo. (people are so narrow minded sometimes)

I  expect my mother would react nearly the same since she can’t stand even dreadlocks. Well, I know quite a few people who have dreadlocks and find nothing strange on this particualr hairstyle. But I am inclined to look kindly upon anything unusual and let the person explain his choice of style and beliefs. I might not agree with somehting or find it odd, but I won’t criticize or be prejudiced against them.

The horimono are a work of art and nothing could ever convince me otherwise. The designs borrowed from kabuki, the ukiyo-e wood prints and made by the tatoo artist themselves are distinctively Japanese. The use of new tattoing machines changed the technique somewhat, but masters of this craft preserve some aspects of the traditional tattooing processes, which lengthenes the procedure. It is no wonder that bonds form between them and that sometimes the people sporting the finished works of the artists are considered living canvas and art – thus the artist places his name on the finished product.

The symbolism and stories behind the images are even more interesting. Since many heroes of the kabuki theatre were sporting large tattoos ,those designs were later on seen on people who were fascinated with the story they had seen and wished to achieve the same strength the fictional heroes did. Often the fire-fighters, fishermen and other tight-knit communities have distinctive designs. So, it is no wonder the designs in kabuki, ukiyo-e and irezumi are so similar and display the same principles and ideas.

I bow down to those who have the patience and the skill to endure the pain for several hours few years long to get the tattoos done. And I congratulate the artist on their skill and patience. This must be a hell of a job!

I personally have no tattoo done, but wouldn’t mind sporting a nice bright red chinese phoenix on my back. Well, couldn’t do that to my poor mother though and I don’t have the money nor time to get it done. Not to speak of the design or a capable artist I’d trust to get it done right. I’m not even sure I’d stand the pain…

A girl can dream, right?

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