Japanese Tattoo History

Even today in Japan, anyone with a tattoo is refused entry to public baths. Even for a conservative country like Japan this seems a bit harsh but the reasons behind it go back centuries.


The name given to tattooing in Japan is Irezumi and refers to the many various forms of traditional Japanese tattoos, or modern forms inspired or derived from these. Just to confuse things, the word can be written AND spoken in several different ways, and also translate into several different words, although the most common is literally “insert ink”.


Japanese Tattoo History


Japanese tattoos date back thousands of years, but their meaning and role in society fluctuate with different time periods. It was around the Kofun period (300-600 AD) that tattoos began to take on negative associations. Criminals were tattooed as a form of punishment, so others would know they had committed a crime.


Tattoo fads came and went over the next thousand years, but the stigma lingered, and at the beginning of the Meiji period, tattoos were outlawed altogether. Of course, when you outlaw anything, you only drive it underground, so tattoos were now officially the cool thing to have, and as Japan opened up to the West, many came to seek the skills of traditional Japanese Tattoo Artists.


The associations with criminality still maintained, with many associating tattoos with the Yakuza, Japan’s infamous mafia. This gave tattoos in Japan a stigma which is still seen today in the bathhouses and other Japanese businesses. Japanese tattoos were legalised again after the war, but even today, a tattoo studio is hard to find. It is estimated there are around 300 tattoo artists in Japan; an incredibly small percentage considering its 127 million population. 


If you’re interested in getting a Japanese style tattoo, then give Chapel Tattoo a call today. We have experienced and skilled artists who specialise in the Japanese tattoo style.