Japanese tattoos are probably the most popular and most recognizable tattoo styles. The Japanese tattoo tradition has existed for thousands of years now, and even to this day, it carries a veil of mystery and unknown to a lot of us.
So, if you’re looking to get a Japanese tattoo, but aren’t sure about the meaning or the design you should get, then this is the right place to be. In the following paragraphs we’ll dive into the symbolism, meaning, and design of Japanese tattoos, so let’s get started!
Japanese Tattoos – Explained
The History And Culture
Before World War II, Japanese tattoos were used to depict social status as well as spiritual devotion. They were also used as a form of a charm for protection and spirituality.
However, Japanese tattoos were also used as a form of punishment for criminals and slaves, which also directly referred to the social status of those social groups.
However such tattoo practices were banned by the Japanese Emperor in the Edo period. That is when tattoos became a symbol of crime, the Japanese underground, and the Yakuza. However, Japan’s legal prohibition of tattoos was completely lifted in 1948 under the US occupation. That is when the Japanese tattoo artists began catering to American servicemen and the military.
In the 1980s, Japanese tattoos became a global phenomenon mostly due to the rock bands getting Japanese traditional tattoos. After that, this global phenomenon just kept expanding.
The world was and still is amazed by the incredible Japanese tattoos, and to this day foreigners seek the best Japanese tattoo artists to get a true traditional tattoo.
The Meaning And Design Of The Traditional Japanese Tattoos
Here are the meanings and designs of the most popular traditional Japanese tattoos. They all carry historical, traditional meanings that stem from myths, legends, and traditional stories. All of the Japanese traditional tattoos need to be designed by experienced tattoo artists and done by hand.
Ryu Tattoo – Japanese Dragon Tattoo
This is the most popular Japanese tattoo design. The Japanese dragon symbolizes strength, wisdom, blessing, and the force of good. The symbolism stems from the traditional belief that dragons can manipulate elements for the benefit of the people and the good in this world.
Japanese dragon tattoos generally vary in design, so the dragon can have a head of a camel, the body of a snake or fish, the talons of an eagle, etc.
It usually comprises the elements of different animals or mythical creatures and occupies large parts of the body (most often the ‘sleeve’ area of the arm, the shoulder area, the upper and lower back, and upper thighs.
Kappa Tattoo – Japanese Turtle Tattoo
Another popular Japanese tattoo design stems from the myth of a monstrous turtle and giant salamanders reaching from the shallow water to grab everyone near.
Because of this myth, Kappa’s are described as troublemakers and law-breakers. They apparently like to kidnap children and assault women, which is definitely beyond mythical and a cover story for the law-breaking outcasts.
We are not sure why such tattoos are popular with foreigners, but we assume the majority of people don’t really know the story and the meaning of the Turtle tattoos.
When it comes to the design of the tattoo, the most notable feature is the little water-filled cavity on the top of the turtle’s head. When the cavity is dry, this means that the turtle is powerless.
Tengu Tattoos – Japanese Supernatural/Ghost Tattoos
These tattoos usually feature humanoid variations of supernatural creatures with demonic features. The creatures usually have elongated noses and generally sinister appearances.
They are often colored in red and black to further emphasize their wrathful symbolism. These creatures often carry the meaning of war and destruction, so the red color also depicts militant symbolism. The tattoo is often placed somewhere visible, but the majority of people tend to place it on the back, upper thigh, or chest area.
Koi Tattoos – Japanese Koi Fish Tattoos
The story of the koi fish swimming upward the stream, reaching the top of a waterfall, and being transformed into a dragon is one of the most popular Japanese and Chinese legends.
Koi fish is a traditional Japanese symbol of wealth, success, ability to overcome struggles, courage, and determination. Depending on the color of the Koi fish tattoo, it can carry a combination of different meanings, for example; masculinity, motherhood, strength, bravery, independence, success, wealth, desire, etc.
Foo Dog Or Karajishi Tattoos – Japanese Lion Tattoos
The Japanese lion tattoo isn’t really what you might expect them to be. The lion in such tattoos is a combination of a dog and a lion, where the lion has rather pointed ears.
Therefore, the meaning of such a tattoo is often dual, comprising the meaning of the dog and the lion. The symbolism often refers to courage, bravery, protection, strength, loyalty, etc.
Both dog and the lion in Japanese tradition carry the meaning of one’s heroic aspirations and the need to serve as protectors. Japanese lion tattoos can be both small or big, and they sit best on the shoulder and arm area, especially the forearm, as well as the calf and thigh area.
Hebi Irezumi Tattoos – Japanese Snake Tattoos
In Japanese, Hebi means snake, and Irezumi means tattooing. The Japanese snake tattoos often depict the oriental idea of a snake. Nevertheless, the snake in the Japanese tradition carries a meaning of rebirth, transformation, and change, mostly because snakes are known for shedding their skin. Japanese snake tattoos can also be a symbol of good luck if a snake is white.
However, if the tattoo depicts a black or dead snake, that is considered to be a very bad omen. The snake tattoos are often placed on the shoulder, arm, and chest area, as it seems these areas present the imagery the best.
Hou-ou Tattoos – Japanese Phoenix Tattoos
In Japan, the phoenix is a symbol of the imperial household. Therefore, the meaning of the Japanese phoenix tattoos often revolves around the imperial characteristics, like obedience, justice, fire, sun, etc.
However, the phoenix can also symbolize both harmony and disharmony, as well as good and bad times. The phoenix is often depicted in rather big tattoos; it has a longer neck, exceptionally large wings, and often features the color scheme of fire and sun.
Japanese Tattoos And FAQs
What Is A Japanese Tattoo?
A Japanese tattoo can be a traditional or modern depiction of the Japanese mythical creatures and legends onto one’s body. The process of Japanese tattooing is known as Irezumi and can be done using non-electrical tools (Tebori technique) or the mainstream tattoo needle.
Japanese tattoos are often associated with the Japanese mafia or Yakuza, but nowadays is a global phenomenon and a style that appeals to foreigners and visitors of Japan.
Do Colors In Japanese Tattoos Have Meaning?
Yes, of course! Colors are one of the main features of a traditional Japanese tattoo design. Let’s take a look at some of the main color meanings;
- White – this is the color of death in Japan, so it usually carries a negative connotation in tattoos. However, depending on the style and design of the tattoo, the white color can mean things like innocence, purity, and truth. It often symbolizes a new start or a new chance, which is how the Japanese people observe death (as a chance for a new beginning).
- Black – this color is one of the essential colors for Japanese tattoos. It often depicts things like masculinity and fatherhood. Other times it can symbolize mourning, struggles, or one’s ability to overcome struggles in life. Black is the color that is often associated with the Japanese underground tattoo culture.
- Red – this color is the color of joy and happiness in the Japanese tradition and culture. It generally symbolizes love, bravery, motherhood, and power. However, depending on the style and design of a tattoo, the red color can carry a meaning of battle, war, and destruction, especially when paired with black or dark tones.
- Blue – the blue color often symbolizes masculinity and fertility, and is used in the design of the Koi fish tattoos. The color also symbolizes calmness and serenity.
- Gold/yellow – often used in the design of tattoos like Koi fish, dragon or phoenix, the gold/yellow color symbolize strength, power, prosperity, wealth, good luck, and success.
Why Are Japanese Tattoos Associated With Crime?
The reason Japanese tattoos are often associated with crime lies in the events of the Edo period. During the Edo era (1603-1869), criminals and slaves were branded with tattoos to identify and punish them.
During this era, people like murderers, burglars, attackers, and anyone doing something illegal had to wear a tattoo that would show their social status and criminal history.
Even though the ban on tattoos remained until World War II, in 1948 the ban was lifted with the arrival of the US army. However, the stigma remained, and nowadays Japanese tattoos are associated with the underground, mafia, and Yakuza.
Is It Disrespectful To Get A Japanese Tattoo As A Foreigner?
Japanese people are not generally offended when foreigners get traditional Japanese tattoos. They even find it flattering that foreigners are interested in their history, tradition, and culture.
However, what they do find disrespectful is when foreigners get traditional Japanese tattoos without actually knowing the meaning behind the tattoo.
So, make sure to always research the meaning of a particular tattoo design if it’s traditional. This way you’ll avoid offending and disrespecting the Japanese tradition and culture.
What Are The Rules Of Japanese Tattoo Design?
- Rule no.1 – Japanese tattoos have to be bright, unique, and rich in detail.
- Rule no.2 – Japanese tattoos need to have a big design, and usually take large body areas like the chest, the sleeve arm area, the upper and lower back, the upper thigh and the buttocks area, etc.
- Rule no.3 – Japanese tattoos need to have traditional themes, symbols, and characters from myths and legends.
- Rule no.4 – true Japanese tattoos need to be done by hand. The tattoo artist will use a technique called ‘Tebori’.
Also Read: 50+ Best Japanese Flower Tattoo Design Ideas and Their Meanings
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As popular tattoo styles go, Japanese tattoos are among the most common and easily recognizable.
The imagery used in Japanese tattoos is distinct, featuring a blend of cultural significance and detailed line work.
For those looking to add a piece of work to their current collection of tattoos that stands out as detailed and symbolic, there are few better choices than Japanese tattoos.
Today, we will be telling you all about Japanese tattoos.
From what Japanese tattoos are to how to pick the best design for you, we’ll be giving you all the details.
We hope it will be all that much easier for you to select the perfect Japanese tattoo design for you.
Let’s get started!
What Are Japanese Tattoos?
Japanese tattoos are among the oldest styles of tattoos.
In fact, the lineage of Japanese tattooing spans back almost 5,000 years ago.
Specifically, mention of Japanese tattooing can be found in an ancient Mandarin text known as Wei Chih from around 297 AD.
In this text, it is mentioned that men of all ages would have tattoos on all parts of their bodies, sometimes even their faces.
These tattoos were viewed as a form of expressive folk art but quickly became perceived as holding other connotations.
This is due to the fact that troublesome citizens, rather than being sent down, started to be branded with tattoos.
These branding tattoos often included imagery such as Japanese characters, symbols, and/or bands.
Japanese tattoos come in two forms: traditional and modern.
Each of these forms of Japanese tattooing is nearly identical to each other with the main difference being in how the tattoo itself is applied to the skin.
Traditional Japanese tattooing, for example, is applied using the most traditional means, using non-electrical tools.
Modern Japanese tattooing, on the other hand, use a modern tattoo machine.
Japanese tattoos, most often, come in a mix of black-and-gray and colors although there are a variety of Japanese tattoos that come completely in black-and-gray.
One thing, however, that doesn’t change when it comes to Japanese tattoos is that the subject matter is rooted in Japanese culture.
The most popular motifs featured in Japanese tattoos are Koi fish tattoos, geishas, dragons, samurai tattoos, and tiger tattoos.
Japanese Tattoo Colors
If you’ve been looking at traditional Japanese tattoos online, you probably know they often feature bold ink colors.
Though there are some gorgeous black and grey tattoos in the mix, contrasting colors make classic Japanese imagery pop.
You’ll see all kinds of pinks, oranges, turquoises, and bright blues often against black backdrops for an extra hint of drama.
Before diving into a sea of beautiful colors, it would behoove you to learn a bit about colors in Japan.
Every culture has its own associations with color; that’s why in America people wear black for last rites and red to feel desirable.
Let’s brush up on our colors, the meanings behind them, and how you can incorporate all of them into your next piece.
- White: white is a dominant color in Japan’s culture, and a very popular color for cars as well! Opposite to US where black is the chosen color for last rites, white is the color of passing away in Japan. It also symbolizes purity and truth. Like a thick blanket of snow, white can symbolize a fresh start or new beginning in Japan, which can be a comforting attitude toward eternal rest.
- Black: black can also be a color of mourning in Japan, but only when used with white. Some sympathy gifts will be tied with black and white ribbon to show sympathy. With Black ink being the only available color for early tattoos, there is a strong association between black and tattoos. Being a color of mystery as well, it is a perfect color to Japan’s underground tattoo culture, and complicated history with the art of tattoos.
- Red: red is a very important color in Japan. Symbolizing happiness and joy, it is usually incorporated into merry events such as weddings, birthdays, and new year’s eve. Because red is the color of the vital fluid, it symbolizes passion and vitality. If you are looking into a traditional Japanese tattoo a splash of red would be a good idea; it is said it offer protection.
- Blue: blue is a lucky color in Japan, and subsequently the color of choice for job interview outfits. Many corporate workers wear blue. It is a symbol of fidelity, and could show your dedication to your work.
- Green: because so many things in nature are green, in Japan it is a color that represents life, youth, energy, and respect for the earth. Green tea is also popular in Japan, known for its health benefits.
- Purple: purple is a regal color in Japan and elsewhere. As it used to be an incredibly difficult and expensive color to produce- it was reserved for the ruling class. During the Edo period, lower-class people were not supposed to wear any vivid colors at all. They wore brown robes to show their status (or lack thereof,) but many people would resist with a colorful lining. Celebrate your royalty and mix a little aubergine or lavender into your Japanese tattoo design.
- Pink: pink represents femininity, the delicate nature of life, spring, and good health. This is also a popular color of lingerie in Japan, so it might add a little feminine charisma to your tattoo.
- Yellow: yellow can signify joy, optimism, and prosperity but be careful! In some areas of Japan it is thought of as the color of deceit! To have a “yellow voice” is to have a shrill way of speaking in Japan. A complicated color, but it does look pretty in tattoo art.
There may be colors with multiple meanings in Japan, and certain colors mean different things when worn in different situations.
As far as your Japanese tattoo is concerned though, there really aren’t any “bad” colors.
Work with a reputable artist and they’ll be able to create something harmonious and beautiful with an auspicious blend of vibrant hues.
How to Pick the Best Japanese Tattoo For You
If you are considering a Japanese tattoo for yourself, you are likely wondering where to start in terms of choosing a design.
Whether you are of Japanese descent and want to pay homage to your culture or have a deep appreciation for Japanese art, the Japanese tattoo style is perfect for you.
When considering the best Japanese tattoo design for you, there are a few different factors that you should consider.
Japanese Tattoo Placement
When it comes to choosing the best placement for a Japanese tattoo, it is important to keep in mind that Japanese tattoos often look the best when a large amount of space is allowed.
This is because they tend to look the best when covering a large portion of skin that allows for enough room for the extensive detail used in the style.
For this reason, those looking to add a Japanese tattoo to their collection typically select a limb or the entire back.
Some even go for a full-body tattoo but this should be reserved for those that are sure about the subject matter and design that they want to feature.
As highlighted, Japanese tattoos are typically benefited by using a large amount of space so as to have ample room for detailed line-work.
For this reason, it is important that you consider placement when finalizing your design.
Be sure to select an area that allows for enough space for your tattoo artist to fully bring your design to life.
- Japanese Tattoos on Forearm
Your forearm is ample enough space to be able to showcase the intricate detail that goes into Japanese tattooing without giving into a larger area like your back.
Your forearm can easily be covered up if need be, or roll up your sleeves and show off your ink.
- Japanese Tattoos on Chest
Do you want to be a little bolder in your placement?
Why not on your chest? There is no hiding the colors and details that go into your design.
If you are someone that isn’t afraid of making a statement, consider getting a large-scale tattoo on your back.
If you want to accentuate the intricate details that come with Japanese tattoos, your back is the perfect canvas for that!
A back tattoo also can be significant, but it is easy to cover up if need be.
There seems to be no downside when it comes to inking your back!
- Japanese Tattoos on Thigh
Dragons exude power and strength in Japanese culture.
They are a popular tattoo amongst those who want to encompass that.
A dragon tattoo placed on your thigh can give off the true size of these mythical creatures.
Those who have no intention of covering up their Japanese artwork might want to consider tattooing their neck.
This space is smaller, so one might consider a bright and bold Japanese mask like the examples below.
The hands are another area that is difficult to cover up and another way to display your tattoos.
Koi fish would be a perfect addition to your collection of Japanese tattoos.
They can be created small enough to fit your hands without taking away the details that make up this beautiful, traditional Japanese fish.
- Japanese Tattoos on Shoulder
Your shoulder is a perfect placement that can accommodate a dragon’s long body, a larger scale of a Koi fish, or a bold statement like a Japanese mask—all while having the option to cover it up easily.
Your foot’s size is similar to your hands, so that a Koi fish would be an excellent option for this area.
Your foot can also be easily concealed compared to your hand if that is a concern.
Either way, you will be able to showcase your beautiful Japanese artwork.
Think about placing one of your Japanese tattoos on your calf.
It is easily covered up in a more subtle location without taking the stunning components away from a Japanese tattoo.
- Japanese Tattoos on the Side
One might choose to showcase a more significant piece on the side of their body.
There will be no missing any detail when one of these Japanese tattoos is scaled across your body.
Japanese Tattoo Subjects
Subject matter is a huge factor to consider when choosing your Japanese tattoo design.
Luckily, there are many subjects to choose from in the Japanese style.
Most popularly are dragons, koi fish, geishas, and other subjects with symbolism tied to Japanese culture.
Dragons are best-suited for those wanting to convey an atmosphere of power and strength while koi fish are suitable for those who want to symbolize good luck, independence, or perseverance.
Think long and hard about what you want your Japanese tattoo to say when choosing the perfect design for you.
Japanese Mask Tattoos
A synonym for an Oni mask would be that of a demon whose origin is of a Hindu-Buddhist belief system.
Oni’s are under an umbrella of goblins and ghouls called Yokai.
Many Yokai characters are only pranksters at best, but not the Oni.
Oni’s are believed to be the reason for setbacks.
An Oni possesses beastly characteristics and moves slowly because of its size.
An Oni is powerful despite its speed and has an in-your-face nature.
Someone might get an Oni Mask tattoo to attract that forceful nature and ward wicked spirits off.
Kitsune translates to a fox in Japanese.
One will find the importance of a fox in Japanese culture within Eastern folklore.
Kitsune are celebrated and used to work alongside workers in ancient times.
According to folklore, though, they were considered pranksters and could shape-shift.
They were believed to be messengers of the deities.
They would dress as monks and collect money from unknowing people or shapeshift into women to nonplus men.
Receiving a Kitsune tattoo can represent so many different meanings, so there is an endless amount of possibilities!
There is not just one characteristic available to describe a Tengu.
The story has been told that the Tengu was a falling star that touched down with a thundering noise and only brought disarray and confusion.
It revealed itself with dog-like features and a beak-like nose.
A Tengu’s story has been written in many different ways, but his main characteristic is that it can shapeshift.
It is believed that the Tengu shapeshifted so many times that it started to possess more human-like features, which is the more popular image found today.
A Tengu can be portrayed in many different lights, and each image represents a different story, so make sure when choosing a Tengu Mask tattoo that you thoroughly did your research.
Okame is a religious figure in Japan, and she was created to portray beauty and femininity.
Her delicate features and smiling face portrays her as approachable and gentle.
Her skin is pale, which causes her rosy, plump cheeks and bright red lips to stand out.
Her demeanor is as pleasant as her appearance.
The word “mirth” is associated with an Okame tattoo, which means a happy spirit.
Okame comes with happiness and good fortune, which makes a perfect addition to your tattoos.
An Okina Mask can be created in many different ways.
The most famous portrayal of the Okina Mask is that of an older man.
An Okina is seen smiling, which gives off a pleasant nature.
In Japan, old age is highly respected.
Old age represents wisdom because of the long years they have lived.
It only fits that an Okina Mask was believed to be divinity’s physical form due to its all-knowing characteristic.
An Okina Mask tattoo is an excellent choice if you are looking to express wisdom and respect.
Folklore is full of wicked spirits, stirring up confusion and misfortune throughout the land, so it is refreshing, to say the least when we come across a comedic character.
Hyottoko knows how to make light of things amid the turmoil.
Many entertaining legends go along with this funny little boy, which makes it worth looking into.
Hyottoko tattoo is an excellent choice if you are looking for a comedic character known to bring good fortune and prosperity into your life.
Namahage is not one of the more well-known characters, but that does not take away from his mischievous character.
Namahage is an unfortunate and wicked spin on Santa Claus.
Instead of bringing presents to good little ones, he seeks to discipline bad behaving ones.
The legend goes that he takes the bad-behaving youngsters into the mountains.
Parents would tell this tale to ensure their little ones start to behave.
It usually will do the trick which prompts them to offer Namahage rice cakes and sake to go back to the mountains.
Having a Namahage tattoo could offer you protection.
Saru translates to a monkey in Japanese.
A Saru has many different qualities, which include being playful, silly, or even a trickster.
In Japanese legends, monkeys often seek recognition, and there is no shortage of an arrogant attitude.
Their competitive nature but also their need to be mischievous often distract them from achieving their desires.
One might think they self-sabotage themselves.
Saru tattoos are a great way to add a metaphorical piece to represent their similar characteristics in this way.
Being part of the Yokai family, the Kappa is a creature found in Japanese folklore.
Kappas are bizarre in their features and have a hole in their hard filled with water.
This water holds all of their secrets that they are known to be very good at keeping.
Unfortunately, Kappa’s are obliging, and if a devious person wants to know deceit them, all they have to do is bow.
The Kappa will reciprocate but also spilling all of their secrets.
A Kappa will be internally grateful if someone refills the water, and for that, they gained a companion.
This is only one tale of the Kappa, but if you are generally loyal and helpful, a Kappa tattoo might fit!
A Tanuki has a friendly and adorable look about them, but one distinctive characteristic is hard not to notice.
His prominent round belly is nothing compared to his scrotum, which often is exaggerated for maximum effect.
Unlike most Yokai, the Tanuki is a real animal called a raccoon dog.
It was believed that a Tanuki was of a cheerful nature which can bring a light-hearted laugh if you choose to get a Tanuki tattoo.
In Japan, there are seven deities of good luck and fortune; Daikoku is one of them.
There are many different associations with a Daikoku as it originates back to Hindu belief.
A Daikoku mask is mainly known to ward off and bring in good luck.
He is found carrying a bag of gold thrown over his shoulder and a wish-granting mallet.
Someone might choose to have a Daikoku tattoo to manifest prosperity, good fortune, and exude optimism.
Tofu Boy is an interesting addition to the Yokai clan and is a traditional figure from old tales told over generations.
He is known as one of the weaker Yokai and tends to get pushed around for his timid and shy behavior.
Don’t let this fool you; Tofu Boy is mischievous if the opportunity arises.
Despite Tofu Boy’s trickster demeanor, his weaker stature among the Yokai is being used to teach youngsters against bossing around.
If you’ve been pushed around in your life, a Tofu Boy tattoo might be a great fit.
Karura has ties to Hindu and Japanese culture.
Karura is better known as Garuda within Hindu culture.
He is a birdman with impressive gold wings who can fly at remarkable speeds.
It is believed that when he hatched from a giant egg, his birth nearly demolished the world.
He was merciful and extinguished the fire.
He did not want to scare anyone after what he had done, so he shrunk himself down to a less intimidating size.
Garuda is a powerful tattoo that encompasses merciful qualities.
Have you ever had trouble sleeping because haunting dreams encompass you at night?
A Baku tattoo might do the trick to ward off bad dreams.
Baku is best known as a sleep guardian.
Little ones are often told that Baku helps to take bad dreams away.
In addition to warding off bad dreams, Baku can turn good dreams into lucky ones as well.
If you are looking for a figure to help you when you sleep, a Baku tattoo might be the right one for you.
Japanese folklore possesses a creature called the Nue.
It has a monkey’s face, a Tanuki body, the legs of a tiger, and a tail of a snake.
It is believed that the Nue emerged from a black cloud and caused the emperor to become out of sorts.
Two samurais were ordered to finish off whatever was in the cloud that was harming the emperor.
One might wonder why someone would get such a terrifying tattoo, but it can be a symbol of mental health and slaying their demons.
No matter the symbolic meaning behind a Nue tattoo, it is as original as it gets!
Tattoos of Japanese Deities
The name translation says it all, “Great Demon God.”
He would pay back any wrong-doings against them in their past life.
The Daikijin tale narrated in a way that he was the demon of all demons.
He is described to have long white facial hair with two long horns protruding from his forehead.
A Daikijin tattoo has golden eyes that would discourage any lesser demons.
The Raijin dates back as a demon.
He is the deity of thunder, and youngsters are told to hide their belly buttons because the tale goes that Raijin likes to snack on them during heavy rain!
These result from the square go for power between Raijin, “deity of thunder,” and his brother Fujin, “deity of wind.”
They grapple to win the top spot of who is the main deity of the sky.
A Raijin tattoo would represent a powerful addition to your ink.
Despite being a well-known Japanese deity, Fujin’s origin goes back to Greek folklore.
Japan faces heavy rains, and the legend describes a massive disagreement between Fujin and his brother Raijin.
Despite being brothers, these two deities always have a set-to for the top spot of the “deity of the sky.”
Most people get tattoos of both brothers, showcasing their face-offs.
The Fudo Myoo originates from Shingon, which translates to “True Word.”
He is part of a group of powerful deities called the Five Bright Kings.
Despite his features being frightening, he is quite the opposite.
Fudo Myoo is commonly known as “The Immovable One,” and he has a protective nature.
His powers include prosperity and bringing good fortune to those who devote him.
He will also subdue wicked forces, so you can’t go wrong with a Fudo Myoo tattoo!
Ebisu is one of the Seven Lucky Gods.
Each deity represents a different virtue.
Ebisu is the only deity that is 100% indigenous to Japan, which is important to Japanese tradition.
This makes Ebisu quite popular throughout Japan, and his figure is often found throughout restaurants, religious shrines, and shops.
Ebisu represents wealth and good fortune, which could explain why you will always find his depiction smiling.
If you are looking to manifest good luck into your life, an Ebisu tattoo might be an excellent addition!
Tattoos of Japanese Mythical Creatures
A Kirin is the Japanese version of a mystical creature similar to a unicorn.
The Kirin has a single horn on top of its head, making it similar to a Unicorn.
It is uniquely different from the body of a deer and dragon-like scales.
Legends have been told that the Kirin appears in times of peace, and people might choose to receive a Kirin tattoo to encourage a positive lifestyle change.
Most Japanese creatures are of folklore or religious figures that are only passed down stories through generations.
The Heikegani is unique because it is an earthly creature.
The Heikegani is also known as a Samurai crab.
They have distinctive markings on their backs that look similar to angry Samurai faces.
Fishermen will cast their nets, and if any crab caught with angry Samurai face markings, they would immediately throw them back.
One might choose a Heikegani tattoo because they symbolize honor and defiance.
One of the most important symbols in Japanese culture is the dragon.
The Japanese dragon tattoo is one of the most sought-after designs in the tattoo parlor.
It could be because of the vibrant designs or what a dragon tattoo symbolizes.
Common meanings would be wisdom, power, strength, good luck, prosperity, longevity, and even more.
There is not only one style of the dragon tattoo, so make sure you do your proper research when choosing one of these fierce, majestic creatures.
The Foo Dog is traced back to India.
A Foo Dog tattoo design could be colorful and playful, or it can be a mean and intimidating creature.
There are many names that the Foo Dog goes by, A Komainu, a Fu Dog, A Guardian Lion, or Imperial Lions.
The Foo Dog symbolizes protection, peace and calmness, and harmony and balance.
Foo dogs traveled in pairs, so it would only be right to get two tattoos.
Each can represent one of the many symbols that Foo Dogs emulate.
Most people have heard the phrase, “A phoenix rising from the ashes,” indicating someone triumphed over difficult situations.
A Phoenix tattoo is typically depicted as a large bird with large wings and a large tail, with orange and red colors.
People usually resonate with the phoenix’s story because they have gone through tough times and ultimately made a new start.
If you are trying to make a statement that you are taking back control of your life, a Japanese phoenix tattoo might be the perfect addition to your ink!
Other Japanese Tattoo Subjects
One of the most recognizable Japanese tattoos would be the bold and beautiful Koi fish.
Koi fish tattoos generally represent bravery, hope, and fulfilling one’s destiny.
It is no wonder why Koi fish are popular among tattoos.
You can own a Koi fish, and they are known to last about 25 years.
This can also represent prosperity, as you will have this pet for a while.
There is a variety of Koi fish you can choose from.
Each color can mean something different, as discussed previously.
So make sure you put some real thought into the placement and color of your Koi fish tattoo.
Along with the Koi fish, Geisha tattoos are widely popular Japanese tattoos.
Geisha tattoos stand out among most tattoos because they are known for their makeup, extravagant hair, and complex and colorful kimonos.
There are many different roles of a Geisha.
One might find them to be a hostess, court jester, performance artist, and even more.
They make the people around them feel special and exemplary.
A Geisha is the token of feminine nature and often symbolizes artistry and perfectionism.
If this is something you want to bring into your own life, a Geisha tattoo might be the right fit.
Namakubi translates to a bold scene in Japan as a freshly severed head.
Despite its gruesome appearance, the Namakubi is a widely popular tattoo.
It is no surprise that it is connected with ancient Japanese frontlines.
It represents the acceptance of fate and respecting one’s nemesis.
Many see the Namakubi as a way to portray enjoying life and living it to the fullest because the final exit is inevitable.
This rang true with Japanese warriors that they dared to push through the action even though they knew it was likely that they would face the end.
If you were looking to ink some courage on yourself, a Namakubi tattoo might do the trick!
A Kabuto is a Japanese helmet that was worn in confrontations by Samurais.
Its popularity holds with men as well as women.
A Kabuto tattoo might be a good choice for those who want to honor their culture or have an innate fascination for the Samurai.
The Samurai were part of the noble class in Japan, worked for the government for no fee, were honored to serve, and would only have a set-to face to face.
A Kabuto has many different styles to choose from, and each has its own meaning.
The Kabuto is significant in Japanese culture, so make sure you do your proper research before heading off to your tattoo parlor.
Japanese snake tattoos are one of the more popular tattoos in Japanese cultures.
The word snake in Japanese is hebi, and their typical depiction is frightening, but in Japanese culture, they are seen as beautiful.
Specifically, if one comes across a white snake, it is a sign of good luck which would be a great tattoo idea if that was what you were looking for.
Snakes are not seen as a menace; people like snakes around, especially their garden, because they will eat intruding creatures that would destroy their garden.
Snake tattoos are well respected in Japanese culture.
Japanese tattoos use a variety of color schemes. When thinking about your own Japanese tattoo design, it is important that you consider the color scheme as it relates to your chosen subject matter.
Looking to add a dragon to your Japanese tattoo design, consider colors associated with power like bold reds or greens. Looking to feature a more soft, feminine subject matter like a geisha?
Use a color scheme filled with soft colors like light pinks. Color plays a huge role in how a Japanese tattoo design turns out so consider your choices carefully.
Finally, the last factor you will want to consider when choosing the perfect Japanese tattoo design for you is your tattoo artist.
We highly recommend choosing a tattoo artist that specializes in the style.
While this may mean paying slightly more or adding your name to a wait-list to be tattooed by an artist specializing in the Japanese style, you are sure to get the biggest bang for your buck.
Select your tattoo artist carefully! A seasoned tattoo artist specializing in the Japanese tattoo style is sure to be helpful in helping you to decide on the perfect design for you.
Japanese Tattoo Designs
We know that choosing the best Japanese tattoo design for you can be difficult.
Luckily, we are here with a few of the best Japanese tattoos to offer a little bit of inspiration!
Take a look at these exquisite, detailed Japanese tattoos and use them to come up with the perfect design for you!
- Wordlock bike lock
- Cava tzu puppies
- Dungeon unscramble
- C5 corvette sequential transmission
- Nursery toy organizer
108 Amazing Japanese Tattoos That Are Very Cultural
Are you looking for a new tattoo idea, one that has some cultural significance? You wouldn’t want to go any further than this article because Japanese tattoos are truly badass. Japanese tattoos not only look great but they are also inspiring as well. Japanese tattoos can be worn by both men and women. They make great sleeve tattoos because there are a lot of elements that you can add to create an amazing tattoo.
If you like culture and tradition, then you are sure going to love the Japanese symbolisms. The traditions behind a Japanese tattoo have been around for many years. These tattoos always have purpose and meaning and are often viewed as a sign of societal status.
Japanese tattoos are interesting tattoos for a reason. That’s because they have a rich history. If you are interested in culture and history you won’t find a tattoo idea that has more cultural significance. There is a lot of culture behind the image. The Japanese were doing tattoos long before the tattoo machines of our era came around.
Japanese tattoos often symbolize protection and devotion. They are a charming way to show off your protective nature. It’s also a form of personal protection as well. A Japanese tattoo is meant to protect the owner of any attacks or harm that should come his way. It’s a versatile tattoo that can cover large areas on the body. They are beautiful and inspiring tattoos that you will love for many years to come.
There are many different images that can be used to create your own Japanese tattoo design. You can create your own tattoo that shows off your aspirations, personal beliefs and character traits for all the world to see. The designs used for Japanese tattoos are often quite gorgeous.
Below are 108 Amazing Japanese Tattoos That Are Very Cultural:
1. Floral Elements
A sleeve tattoo with many bright colors and some great flowers that are often a part of Japanese tattoos.
2. Black and White
These Japanese elements are alluring and a little mysterious. These tattoos are great because they don’t need any color to be badass.
3. Japanese Florals
Bright pinks and greens are a great way to brighten up a tattoo. These colors are amazing.
4. Skull Designs
If you have always wanted a sleeve design, then this one is truly badass. There are skulls and other Japanese elements that really make an unusual design.
5. Multiple Sleeves
If you want matching sleeve designs than you can’t go wrong with this awesome tattoo. There is a lot of great elements to this tattoo that you are sure to love.
6. Dragon Designs
This dragon is fierce and mysterious. It takes up the whole sleeve as it moves along the body. I love the black and red colors together, the contrast is amazing.
7. Spider Love
This Japanese tattoo has a lot of great elements like a warrior and a spider. It’s a large tattoo, so there is a lot of commitment to it.
8. Bold Colors
This awesome dragon has some pretty great colors and we love the gold and green together.
A Japanese woman that covers the whole sleeve of the arm. She’s a beauty depiction of the Japanese art.
10. Crazy Warrior
This fierce warrior is truly spectacular. The gold of the crown really goes well with the green of the face.
11. Koi Fish
A very detailed sleeve design of a Koi fish that is swimming in the open waters.
12. Crazy Colors
We love these bold colors that come with Japanese colors. The sleeves are similar, but the colors are different.
13. Detailed Portraits
A great design that has a ton of detail to it. You can’t go wrong with this beautiful piece of art.
14. Dark Designs
This dark tattoo design is truly remarkable. I love the contrast that comes from all the shading.
15. Japanese Warriors
Samurais are truly cool warriors especially when they bring out their swords. If you love these designs, then you are sure to love this detailed and mysterious design.
16. Warrior Faces
A great sleeve design that has more symbolism because of all the fierce battles.
17. Dragon Face
A great sleeve design that has creative elements to it. I love the large dragon face attached to the whole idea. It’s gorgeous.
18. Dragon Love
A great tattoo design that is truly remarkable. The dragon face coming out of the woods is amazing. The details are incredible, and it makes this tattoo awesome.
19. Warrior Gear
These tattoos are remarkable because you can add many different elements to create a whole Japanese sleeve.
20. Bright Colors
A great dragon with some amazing colors attached to it. The brights blues and reds are marvelous together.
21. Dark Dragon
A sleeve design that has a dark dragon that goes all the way up to the chest. It’s a detailed dragon that has some amazing contrast with black and reds. This fierce dragon is truly inspiring.
22. Inspiring Designs
A great design that you are sure to love. A great design filled with color. The feathers attached to this design are magical.
23. Shocking Colors
This full body tattoo has some bright and remarkable colors in it. It covers half the body as well as the sleeve and the design is truly a Japanese inspiration. There is a lot of traditional elements to that make for a great tattoo design.
24. Leg Tattoos
A great tattoo that has some great elements to it. These tattoos cover the entire leg, so you have to be okay with commitment.
25. Bold Fish Designs
These orange and red colors are truly beautiful and if you like the Koi fish and the symbolism behind it, then you will love this tattoo.
26. Incredible Dragons
This fierce dragon is made amazing because of the awesome features in the dragons face. It’s a unique depiction of a dragon that you are sure to love.
27. The Serpent
This full body tattoo has a lot of different elements to it, that makes for an amazing tattoo. The colors are bright and remarkable.
28. Leg Designs
Both legs are completely tattoo with bright colors. These Japanese elements are mesmerizing and also traditional.
29. The Midnight Sky
A great design that has some Japanese elements that go well with the ship picture. The bright colors make for a gorgeous painting.
30. Japanese Folklore
This design is so detailed and gorgeous that it looks like an exquisite painting. It’s absolutely gorgeous design that has stunning colors and details to it. The Geisha girl has always been a traditional element of Japanese art.
31. Stunning Colors
The cherry blossoms are a popular floral choice when it comes to Japanese tattoos. There is no outline needed for these amazing designs; they will knock your socks off just with the color alone.
32. Dark and Mysterious
The warrior armor is truly a great image when it comes to Japanese designs. The tattoo is very dark, so you want to make sure that you love it. This type of tattoo would be impossible to cover up or correct.
33. Cartoon Images
Maybe you don’t want a huge detailed Japanese piece. Some of these cartoon images can be really fun to work with. The bright colors here really jump right off the skin.
34. Chest Tattoos
A great chest tattoo with a lot of bright colors. If you like dragons, then you are sure to love this mysterious creature.
35. Cherry Blossoms
Cherry blossoms are a traditional part of Japanese art and they have a symbolism that means a new life, a new beginning.
36. Koi Love
A great design that has a great Koi fish swimming up the leg. It’s a great design that you are sure to love.
37. Spotted Dragon
A great design that is all about the Japanese dragon.
38. Stunning Designs
You won’t find a more stunning Japanese tattoo than this one. The colors and details are extraordinary here.
39. Bright Koi
I love the bright red of this Koi fish. It’s gorgeous and mesmerizing.
40. Japanese Symbols
You don’t get much more traditional than a Japanese symbol. The colors in this tattoo are gorgeous.
41. Japanese Dragons
These dark dragons have some great details and some beautiful colors.
42. A Drawing
A great tattoo design that looks like a real life drawing. These colors are great for this kind of tattoo.
43. Bold Colors
This is a gorgeous sleeve that has an incredible looking dragon on the arm. I love all the details involved with this design.
44. Bold Bandana
I love the gorgeous depiction of the Japanese woman. The hairstyle on this woman and the red bandana around her eyes make her really intriguing. The details involved in this tattoo are extraordinary.
45. Half Body Images
This half body tattoo is a really cool depiction of Japanese art. I love the darkness on this tattoo and the details are truly amazing.
46. Cartoon Designs
These sleeve designs are fun. I love the colors and the images are exaggerated and awesome.
47. Red Mask
This geisha girl is a truly unusual work of art. The mask is amazing because it’s bold and a little scary. The geisha herself looks terrified.
48. Sleeve Warriors
A great tattoo that you are sure to love.
49. Face Tattoos
I wouldn’t even recommend a face tattoo, it’s just something you can’t ever really cover up and it might end up being something you regret. However, if you want a tattoo on your face, you can’t go wrong with a Samurai sword.
50. Fish Love
This fish is up and swimming over her shoulder.
51. Sea Creatures
Something mysterious and Japanese is coming out of the water and it has some really great colors.
52. Fox Warriors
If you love the Japanese warrior tattoos then why not mix it up with an animal warrior. This fox is alluring.
53. Floral Tattoos
A great tattoo that has great colors and lots of flowers.
54. Large and Dark
If you are looking for a great tattoo that will cover your back and sleeves, then this is the one for you.
55. Great Colors
The lotus flower always has magical properties to it.
56. Neon Colors
A bright colored fish is sure to draw some attention your way.
57. Large Faces
A great face that is larger than life but has some great colors.
58. Great Dragons
A wonderful looking dragon that has some great colors to it.
59. Chest Dragons
If you are looking for a great chest tattoo, then you are sure to love this dragon art.
60. Red Fish
These fish elements are truly remarkable and who can deny the mysteriousness of this red fish.
61. Red Face
A great tattoo of a large red devil, it’s one of a kind.
62. A Fierce Warrior
This back tattoo is very detail and original. There are many details and colors involved here.
63. Movie Art
This is a stunning sleeve design that has so much detail that it could be a picture. It’s extraordinary and wonderful.
64. The Warrior
This warrior is in the middle of battle and we just love the detail.
65. In the Storm
I love the color involved in this unusual tattoo design.
66. Golden Fish
This Koi fish has some bold and golden colors attached to it. I love the designs that make up this tattoo.
67. Purple Designs
A great tattoo that has some bright purple elements to it.
68. The Tiger
The tiger has always been symbolic of strength. This image is a great design.
69. Multiple Dragons
If you love dragons then why not get multiple images done.
70. The Devil Face
This Japanese image is a little devilish and we love the bright red.
71. Bold Red
If you love the Koi fish designs, then you will want to check this one out.
72. Black Devil
This black devil looks like he has a devious plan in mind.
73. Great Blue Designs
If you are looking for a colorful back design, then you can’t go wrong with this one.
74. A Colorful Creation
A great Japanese sleeve design that is one of a kind.
75. Large Eyes
Anyone that comes up behind you is going to feel like they are being watched and we can’t blame them. This tattoo is really going to draw the eye.
76. Blue Dragon
We just love the bright blue that makes up this dragon. It’s original and gorgeous.
77. The Confused Warrior
There seems to be something mysterious about this confused warrior.
78. Just Like Art
This great shoulder tattoo is remarkable because it looks like art.
79. Bold and Beautiful
We love bold and bright colors all over the fish.
80. Creative Tiger
A great sleeve that has a colorful tiger involved.
81. Geisha Drawing
A wonderful design that has a lot of great elements to it, most especially the fact that it looks like a drawing.
82. Geisha Love
We love these creative Japanese sleeves because they are always unique.
83. Bold Pink
Warriors with bright colors make for some amazing art. They are bold bright and beautiful.
84. Bird Designs
I can’t say enough good things about this gorgeous back tattoo. Wow!
85. Bright Red
There are many different elements to Japanese art and this is one of them.
86. Shocking Colors
Great colors that really make for a great Japanese sleeve.
87. Deep and Dark
I love these deep and dark colors that cover both sleeves.
This Japanese back art looks as if it can be a drawing, a truly magical one.
89. Elegant Designs
A great back tattoo for anyone that wants elegant art on their back. This design not only has cherry blossoms but the Japanese language as well.
90. Geisha Girl
This is a strikingly gorgeous back tattoo of a geisha girl. You won’t find a more gorgeous design that this one.
91. Strikingly Beautiful
I love beautiful colors involved in a tattoo because it really makes it pop.
92. Big Designs
A full frontal tattoo is a big commitment, but if it’s what you want, then you will love this tattoo.
93. Fighting Tiger
A gorgeous back tattoo that has a bright orange tiger fighting off a snake. This tattoo is truly amazing because of the battle.
94. Dying Warrior
This warrior is truly a different design because he is in the throes of a death scene.
95. Gorgeous Designs
I love the beautiful purple lotus that makes up this tattoo design. The colors are the best part of the sleeve.
96. Bright Orange
The bright orange of this tattoo really makes the whole design pop.
97. Small Devil
A small devil goes a long way to making a great tattoo design.
98. Crazy Anger
This fierce warrior is not only full of anger but has some seriously bright colors.
99. Detailed Dragon
Back dragons are a great design to have.
100. Mysterious Moon
This tattoo is very dark but also very mysterious and beautiful.
101. Back Geisha
Another example of great geisha art.
102. Fierce Snake
A great snake design that you are sure to love.
There are a lot of Japanese elements that are traditional here.
104. Full Body
Full body dragons might be exactly what you are looking for.
Another example of a pretty geisha girl.
Tigers always make for great tattoo ideas.
107. Great Colors
We love the gorgeous colors on this sleeve design.
You won’t find a more gorgeous tattoo design than this one.
The Top 121+ Best Japanese Tattoos in 2021
Nothing has had a greater impact on Western body art illustration than Japanese tattoo design, collectively known as Irezumi.
Irezumi tattoos are used as a blanket term to describe various tattoo-by-hand styles originating in Japan.
Tattoo technology has caught up to tradition and most designs are now done by a tattoo artist using a machine, however the mystique of traditional Japanese tattooing remains.
When American GI’s left Tokyo after World War II, they brought back to the US a love for the taboo tattoo tradition of the Japanese Yakuza (mafia crime families), who bore large, brightly colored and elaborate body suits depicting Japanese mythology on their skin.
Famed tattoo artists such as Sailor Jerry and Don Ed Hardy incorporated the Japanese style into their tattoos and wider art, changing the complexion of tattoo culture world wide almost completely.
Now, every tattoo studio should have a tattoo artist versed in Japanese decorative tattooing or be left behind by competitors with such a visible tattoo style advantage.
The following collection of brilliant designs feature some elements of the expansive Japanese tattoo style, but they showcase beautiful symbolic body art and decorative tattooing that is as good as any that you will ever see.
Toward the end of the gallery and breakdown you’ll find useful insight into Japanese tattoo terminology, and a FAQ section to help you learn more about the often complex culture of Japanese ink you can apply to your next tattoo design.
1. Koi Fish Tattoo
In Japanese art the koi fish is a symbol of masculinity. Flags of the fish are raised on May 5 every year when a new son is born to the household, in the hope they grow strong.
In Japanese mythology every koi that swims up the Chinese Yellow River and bests the waterfalls known as the “Dragon’s Gate” is transformed from a fish into a mythical dragon Many Irezumi feature Koi and dragons together negotiating turbulent waters to signify toughness and durability.
Koi are also associated with flowers such as the lotus, chrysanthemum, and sakura (cherry blossom).
2. Samurai Tattoos
Samurai warriors followed the practice of Bushido and pledged themselves to moral principles such as courage, honor, and respect.
In times of life and death, these were the guiding values that kept them strong in times of chaos, which is why samurai warriors remain a source of interest to rival medieval knights in allure and grandeur.
3. Traditional Japanese Tattoos
While not deemed illegal any more, tattoos remain heavily stigmatized in conservative Japan despite the younger generation picking up body art as a mean of self expression and defiance against the hugely conservative Japanese government.
Japanese traditional designs feature rich color, heavy single fill and bold outline designs often covering large areas of skin.
The elements – wind, fire, earth, water, wind – are greatly important for filling out and supporting the major theme (shudai) of the large and complex Irezumi tattoos.
4. Japanese Dragon Traditional Tattoo
To some the Japanese dragon tattoo represents strength, power, masculinity, or sexual passion. For others, the dragon depicts longevity, good luck and great wisdom.
They are symbols of forces that use their strength for the good of others, and are held in equal parts awe and respect.
A sleeping dragon means that the wearer possesses quiet strength and power that rises to the occasion when necessary, while a dragon rising toward the sun signifies progress on life’s journey.
A dragon’s claw – generally depicted with 3 claws, against 5 for Chinese dragons -might represent the battle of good over evil, destruction, fearlessness, and power.
5. Geisha Tattoo
Geisha played an important role in Japanese society, and while there is no denying the carnal origins of their cultural role, these aspects were soon overshadowed by the more wholesome duties of hostess and entertainer.
Geishas were often well-educated. Many were well trained in the art form of calligraphy, painting, tea service and Ikebana, and the mastery of musical instruments.
In the world of modern geisha tattoo, the painted visage of the courtesan has come to represent grace, beauty, and femininity, all while offering the tattooist a motif that can be incorporated into a wide range of interesting styles, designs, and concepts.
6. Godzilla Tattoos
For cold-blooded cinematic supremacy the renowned King of Monsters will demolish your opponent’s ink in an effortless show of power. Eastern sensibilities are naturally loaded into the concepts of the city wrecking monster.
Of course, this scaly demon is not the only violent creature that the series has to offer. In fact, there are dozens of competing “kaiju” tattoos that can be used in a tattoo of this kind.
If you love the cinematic Japanese art form or retro action, then a Godzilla tattoo is right up your alley.
7. Kitsune Tattoos
Kitsune are iconic entities from Japanese lore that exist as wise foxes with shape-shifting abilities. Tattoos that feature these enigmatic and bold creatures are said to represent both trickery and friendship.
Kitsune literally translates to fox in English, but the term is much more descriptive of the elusive and magical nature of these forest-dwelling creatures who were often used as spirit messengers between those alive and dead.
8. Japanese Tiger Tattoos
In Japan, the tiger represents courage, longevity and strength. While they may appear ferocious, the animals are thought to ward off bad luck, evil, and illness.
Japanese tigers commonly flow naturally and possess bright colors, often to depict autumn in the northern hemisphere.
Tigers, whether serene or snarling, might feature the head alone, elongated full bodies, or multiple animals and can represent the great beast supine, standing, walking, prowling or pouncing.
9. Samurai Mask Tattoos
A Japanese samurai mask was typically unique to the man who wore it. In many senses, the skull armor was considered to embody the swordsman’s soul.
Several superstitions believe that these awe-inspiring helmets contain the long-deceased spirits of Japan’s original conquerors.
10. Japanese Wave Tattoos
Japanese wave tattoos are typically representative of power, fluidity, and movement, and can represent the ever-changing nature of life.
Just as with water and the ocean, life can be gentle and breezy during the simple times and tumultuous during the hard.
Some Japanese artistic pieces have been translated directly into tattoos, like the famous ‘Great Wave’ by Katsushika Hokusai.
11. Japanese Cherry Blossom Tattoos
The cherry blossom, or sakura, represent beauty and the fragility of life. It is often used to pair off with many masculine tattoo themes to provide harmony, since the sakura is often associated with femininity and grace.
This pink and yellow flowers of the sakura bloom briefly during spring time in Japan, and are one of the most important and integral part of culture and mythology.
12. Japanese Sleeve Tattoos
There’s no denying the appeal of the artistic Japanese tattoo culture with its beautiful floral designs, deep meanings, and complementary motifs.
The style is more popular now than ever, especially when it comes to sleeves. By adopting yobori style and the machine, artists can now make Japanese sleeve tattoos to life quicker and more effectively, despite losing some of the mystique.
13. Japanese Flower Tattoos
Japanese flower tattoos represent the top-notch tradition of ancient Asian art. Representing the complete life cycle as well as sexual prowess and beauty, the flower tattoo promotes a surprisingly masculine motif.
With a Japanese flower tattoo, you can draw from this solid tradition in the form of motivational body art, either as the shudai – central theme – or secondary piece of the design (keshoubori).
14. Enso Tattoos
The Enso symbol is a Zen Buddhism staple and favorite in Japanese design. It is an almost completed circle designed to show there is emptiness both within and outside the circle.
The symbol also depicts the vastness of the universe and its ultimate power.
It is regarded as a sacred symbol in Zen schools. The circle represents the ultimate void or nothingness, which is the most perfect state of meditation as well as Satori – the idea of total enlightenment.
15. Hannya Mask Tattoos
The most recognizable facet of a Japanese Noh play seems to be the Hannya mask. These purposefully terrifying countenances were meant to signify the spirit of a scorned female lover and now comprise some of the best examples of Japanese tattoo art.
Because the original masks required ample care and attention during construction, they are also ideal symbols of discipline and dedication.
16. Japanese Cloud Tattoos
Japanese cloud body art often portrays your love for adventure and expansive vision for the scope of your life goals. The cyclical and transformative nature of clouds reflect the process of where you have been, and the progress as you attain where you are going.
Cloud tattoos make ideal filler pictures (gakoubori) for sleeve tattoos, intricately aligning with more dominant imagery to link spaces, themes, or augment shape.
17. Japanese Demon Tattoos (Oni)
Japanese demon (Oni) tattoos represent power and strength. In esoteric Japanese culture, dragons and demons remain related, with both representing good fortune and generosity.
Far from simplistic fiends, these complex and majestic tattoos impart your ultimate control over any challenge that comes your way.
As a perennial reminder about the eternal struggle between good and evil, Japanese oni tattoos provide a solid foundation for understanding the struggle one has to overcome.
18. Japanese Back Tattoos
Japanese back tattoos have been used as symbols for the wealthy, marked upon slaves, inked on the Yakuza, and used as a means of self-expression for Westerners with a fascination for elements of Japanese culture and mythology.
These tattoos are unique, timeless, and complex. A Japanese back tattoo is imbued with meaning; a way of showing spiritual devotion, delineating character traits acquired or aspired to, and honoring a long-standing tradition boldly with full commitment.
19. Japanese Phoenix Tattoo Ideas
The symbolism of rebirth and everlasting life is a massive part of Japanese phoenix tattoo. The bird rising from the ashes stronger than ever represents tenacity in reaching goals and overcoming struggle.
The Japanese phoenix tattoo also symbolizes healing and purification. Not only does the phoenix emerge from ashes immortal, but its legendary tears heal wounds.
20. Japanese Snake Tattoos
One of the more popular Japanese tattoos for men is the snake (hebi). Snakes often represent rebirth and eternal life by virtue of regularly shedding their skin.
The Japanese pit viper, or the “mamushi,” is a beautiful animal with a circular pattern in the scales on its back and a more detailed black and white mosaic on its belly.
While generally small, this venomous snake is excellent at sneaking up on its prey when they least expect it, and a popular sub genre of wider serpent designs.
21. Rising Sun Tattoos
This ancient Japanese icon has been around since the Edo Period, so you will be getting in touch with your samurai roots. The simplest incarnation is a blood red sphere, but the most distinctive variations showcase corresponding rays of light.
Mt. Fuji is a focal point of many rising sun illustrations, and the artwork sometimes replicates old-school woodblock prints. The peak can be maximized with fluffy clouds and tasteful cranes, or Shinto features incorporated to add meditative calm and cultural cachet.
22. Japanese Skull Tattoos
Skulls have famously been used to represent a huge spectrum of themes revolving around death, growth, and life itself. Japanese skull tattoos are unique in that they are respected and revered as a form of positive remembrance for deceased relatives and ancestors.
In Japanese culture, skull tattoos are seen as a way to honor the greatest progression man can experience. Death is revered in Japanese culture, and that symbolism has spread throughout the world of tattoos.
23. Raijin Tattoos
As the god of lightning, thunder and storms in the Shinto religion and in Japanese mythology, Raijin is a fearsome god. His formidable appearance and power is what makes him the perfect tattoos for those who have a deep respect for the Shinto philosophy.
Raijin was formed shortly after the creation of Japan by Izanami and Izanagi. He is said to have a drum, which he uses in order to make thunder during storms.
During these storms, folk legends say that Raijin will eat children’s navels and take them away, lest they keep themselves covered in the presence of this terrifying god.
24. Japanese Frog Tattoos
The frog holds a prestigious place in Japanese culture, holding infinite powers of prosperity, luck, and lifelong abundance.
The Japanese frog is heralded as the god of rainfall during the tsuyu (plum rain) season and ensurer of harvests.
The frog is often a popular good luck tattoo, gift and domestic mainstay, promising many happy returns of loved ones, success, and wealth.
Japanese Tattoo Glossary
Image: Leo U via Flickr CC By –NC 2.0
The following list of words are commonly used Japanese terms to describe aspects of tattooing, style or placement. They can be handy for your research when planning your design or refining an idea.
Gradation (multi level shading of black through gray by clearly defining and diluting the ink). Most commonly used when depicting elements to fill around the central tattoo image.
The Japanese full body tattoo without the chest opening
The single or combination of filler ‘pictures’ used to flesh out and frame the whole piece. Most common examples are waves, fire, wind, and clouds.
A half sleeve arm tattoo that starts at the shoulder and goes to just above the elbow join.
The chest panel tattoo, most often combines with an upper arm (Hikae Gobu) or full sleeve design (Hikai Nagasode). A deep hikae goes below the nipple of the chest, while a shallow hikae stays above the nipple
A tattoo artist. Hori is an honorific give to those who “carve.”
Irezumi is the Japanese word for tattoo. While referring to the distinctive poking style of Japanese tattooing, it is also used as a blanket term to describe tattoo styles originating in Japan.
Secondary tattoo motif supporting the central idea, often flowers or plants
Traditional chest tattoo with the opening strip of un-tattooed flesh running down the middle
A full body tattoo with the opening on the chest left un-inked
A full sleeve arm tattoo done to the wrist or right up to the hand
The negative space – untattooed section of the main image or tattoo background
Japanese Festival famous for being the one event/day of the year where Yakuza are allowed to openly display their Irezumi. Yakuza tattoo is rarely visible tattoo
The Japanese back tattoo. Usually refers to the full back piece but also incorporates smaller designs. Those that also cover the buttocks and thighs are called Kame No Kou (the Tortoise Shell)
The three quarter sleeve tattoo running from shoulder to the mid forearm
The central theme or idea of the tattoo
The outline of a tattoo
The literal translation of tebori is “to carve by hand”. Tebori describes the umbrella of traditional Japanese techniques most often used before the incorporation of tattoo machines.
The term for Western style tattooing which uses the machine. Yo is the commonly used slang term.
Japanese Tattoo FAQs
Are tattoos illegal in Japan?
Not currently, but they are heavily stigmatized. Attitudes are slowly changing, but body art has been linked with criminality by the Japanese government.
Yakuza organized crime gangs flaunted laws banning tattoo and adorned themselves with elaborate, full-body tattoos of exceptional detail and quality, a style now popular in Western tattoo art.
What are Japanese traditional tattoos?
Traditional Japanese tattoos that are done by hand are referred to as tebori, however tattoo technology has caught up and most designs are now done by artist’s using a machine.
Japanese traditional design feature rich patterns and heavy single fill and bold outline designs often covering large areas of skin.
What is the difference between Japanese and Chinese Dragon Tattoos?
Chinese and Japanese tattoos have developed in much the same fashion over a long period; they’re sinuous and snakelike with narrow heads and sharp fangs.
The simplest way to distinguish them from each other is Japanese dragons are most often depicted with three claws, while Chinese dragons have five.
Why are the elements important in Japanese tattoos?
The elements are greatly important for filling out and supporting the major theme of the large and complex Japanese tattoo designs. This is known as Gakoubori. Most commonly used elements:
- Waves and water
- Rocks and earth
What is a yakuza tattoo?
In the Edo Period tattoos were applied by authorities as a means to identify criminals in Japanese society, then later incorporated into Yakuza tradition, with large, elaborate body suits depicting Japanese mythology.
What does a Japanese tiger tattoo symbolize?
For a Japanese person tigers represent strength and virility – much like everywhere else. These powerful creatures are solitary hunters and are usually depicted with teeth bared in aggressive postures often surrounded by bamboo and clouds. Few animals make for such dramatic subjects as the tigers depicted in full-color Japanese tattooing.
What do pearls symbolize in Japanese dragon tattoos?
The pearl is an important motif used in complex Japanese design. Usually the Ryu (dragon) us questing to obtain the orb which is protected by other sacred animals symbols such as carp.
One argument is the pearl represents the jewel of all knowledge, while others argue that much in a similar way as European dragons the Ryu quests for wealth.
What are the most popular themes of Japanese style tattoo?
- Dragon (Ryu)
- The Phoenix (Ho-ou)
- Hannya Mask, Oni, and Nabakumi (Demons)
- Raijin (God of lightning, thunder, and storms)
- Kitsune (Fox)
- Koi Fish
- Skulls (Zugaikotsu)
- Foo Dog (Karashishi)
- Snake (Hebi)
- Kanji tattoo (lettering)
How much does a color Japanese sleeve cost?
A full color Japanese Irezumi sleeve tattoo is at the top of the pricing spectrum. A Japanese sleeve will cost at least $1500 -2000 USD, even at a comparatively cheap average price of $150 per hour.
Experienced artists and Japanese tattooing specialists will charge more, while a sleeve from a Japanese tattoo artist master like Horiyoshi III could cost upwards of $10,000 USD for a colorful nagasode arm piece at a Tokyo or Osaka tattoo studio.
What’s the difference between Hannya and Oni mask tattoos?
Japanese Oni (Ogre demon) masks differ from the Hannya mask in that the ogre describes aspects of good and evil.
Traditionally, Oni mask tattoos represent the punishment of humans for acts of evil and injustice, whereas Hannya masks used in Noh theater depict how something beautiful can change and become evil.
What are the most popular Japanese style flower tattoo ideas?
Flowers can be the main theme (Shudai) or a complementary aspect (Keshoubori) in Japanese tattoos. Most famous include:
- Cherry blossom (Sakura)
- Peony (Botan)
- Chrysanthemum (Kiku)
- Maple Leaves (Momiji)
- Lotus flower (Hasunohana)
- Plum blossom (Ume)
Pine trees, Bonsai, and bamboo are also popular nature themes linked to Japanese Irezumi.
What does the combination of black, red, and blue koi tattoos mean?
On May 5, Japanese households hoist koi flags to signify their hope that their male children grow strong to rival heroic figure Kintaro (similar to Hercules), who once wrestled a giant carp.
In Japanese traditional back tattoos, the black koi (magoe) is the father, red koi (higoe) is mother, and the blue carp (kigoe) is the child, while other koi are linked with wealth, success, or love.
Ideas japanese tattoo
.50 Japanese Tattoos for Men
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