The Japanese have long been regarded as master artisans in a variety of forms, from delicately painted screens to massive pieces of pottery. Such symbols as dragons, koi fish, geishas, samurais, and cherry blossoms are all considered integral to Japanese art in general and body art in particular.
Tattoos have been part of Japanese culture for thousands of years, but it was not until the 18th and 19th centuries – when the art of woodblocking prints for books and advertisements became popular – that Japanese youth were interested in getting the same body art as depicted on images of their favorite heroes. Religious symbols and the animals and plants found naturally in Japan were the most often tattooed images.
Photo by “Binder.donedat” on Flickr
It was also a practice in previous centuries to tattoo marks on prisoners, referred to as Geishin. This soon led to the procedure of covering up mandated ink with something more artistic and even the most macho of Japanese men sported very beautiful, delicate artwork on their bodies.
Photo by “Shannon Archuleta” on Flickr
In Japan, tattoo artists are highly skilled and sought after by those wanting true pieces of art via permanent ink. Traditional artists take care to pair certain elements together in the tattoo, such as a phoenix and dragon or a lion with peonies. These are still popular today. Kanji, or characters representing the written language of Japan, are also very common. Dragons, fish, and flowers are perennial favorites.
Japanese people generally place their tattoos where they can be covered up because the practice is not accepted everywhere in society; however in other countries the fine art of Japanese tattoos are proudly displayed.