3 of the Best Japanese Style Tattoos You’ll Want

Tattoo art
Artwork by Nakajima-TASK on Deviantart

Japanese style tattoo is a classic and beautiful art form crafted for centuries. The technique uses linework, intricate patterns, and minimal shading to create stunning works of body art. The materials used in Japanese-style tattoos are often black ink with some bright colors like reds, blues, and purples. Many people get Japanese tattoos as they symbolize protection from evil or negative energy.

Using high-quality pen machines can allow artists to create realistic-looking tattoos composed of fine lines that mimic the perfect petals and delicate details of real roses. With lightweight precision pens, artists can easily control line widths by altering the pressure they apply to the pen. Pen machines also make it easy for artists to switch colors quickly, allowing them to create vibrant and detailed tattoos. They allow for more detail within each piece of body art and give your creation a timeless look that will stand out from other designs.

By combining the traditional technique of Japanese-style tattooing with modern pen machines, you can create stunning works of art that perfectly express your personality. So don’t hesitate to get creative and explore what Japanese-style tattooing offers!

No other style of tattoo combines culture and tradition better than Japanese tattoos. This style of tattoo has a history dating back to 10,000 BCE-300 CE, the Jomon Period. Archeologists found evidence of Japanese-style tattoos on clay figurines, and historians also point to its reference in an ancient Chinese text. The tattoos were mostly of fish and shells, which were used as protection symbols and decorative designs.

Today, the skin art aficionado has more options for motifs. Your Japanese tattoo doesn’t need to be limited to the common drawings of:

  • Koi fish
  • Samurai
  • Geisha
  • Dragons
  • Tiger

Now, when you go into a tattoo shop, do you just say you want some Japanese tattoo or do you make like a know-it-all and say you want “irezumi”?

What is the Japanese Style of Tattooing Called?

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The general term for Japanese tattoos is “irezumi,” which is Japanese for the word “tattoo.” The better term for a Japanese tattooing style is “Tebori,” which means hand carved. Tebori is a traditional way of tattooing in Japan wherein the artist uses bamboo sticks with needles. The needle is usually fixed using silk strings, but some carvers may use materials.

Tebori is done by moving the needle on the skin back and forth. This traditional method of Japanese tattooing is generally longer; how long it lasts will depend on the scale and type of tattoo you pick. If you go with a massive samurai tattoo on your back, you may spend more time on the table.

Is Tebori painful?

Although this is a stick-and-poke method (if you’ve been poked with a stick — multiple times, you’ll know that shit’s not pleasant), Tebori is considered less painful than similar methods that use a hammer and a needle. But one person’s pain threshold isn’t the same as another’s. If you can take some “poking,” or you’re a bit of a badass, you can take this traditional Japanese tattoo method.

Japanese tattoos aren’t unique simply by their method but also for their composition. Much like neo traditional tattoo, traditional Japanese tattoo has visual impact. You’ll notice it uses high contrast coupled with strong line work. Illustrations depict movement through dynamic shapes and positions. And with a background that compliments and a foreground that contrasts, every Japanese-style tattoo you’ll see will be bold and striking.

But which tattoo would be a good pick?

Japanese Tattoo Subjects

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Nothing wrong with picking the typical Japanese ink, like a dragon tattoo, a beautiful geisha, or some samurai whose face got smashed with some killer sword. But there is more to this type of tattoo than the common symbols of its tradition and culture.

Mythical Creatures

Image from Horitsubaki Tattoo on Pinterest

In Japan, they have a “kirin” instead of a unicorn. The fabled creature has the body of a deer but the scales of a dragon. If a Japanese dragon isn’t enough to represent your ink, the magnificent beastly kirin should do it.

Other mythical creatures worthy of looking at are the Japanese phoenix tattoo; the badass samurai crab, also called heikagani, represents honor and defiance, and the foo dog, usually inked in pairs and symbolizes harmony and balance.

The Japanese Gods

Image from Seoul Ink Tattoo on Pinterest

Japan has several gods; one of them is a terrifying-looking buddha who’s from a sect of Buddhism called Shingon. Your options include the Raijin, like Thor, this demon god who controls thunder, who’s always at odds with the god of wind, Fujin, who happens to be his brother. There’s also Ebisu, who is one of the Seven Lucky Gods.

Japanese Mask Tattoos

Artwork from DeanBrorsonArt on Deviantart

Several Japanese masks can work as a killer tattoo on your arm, neck, back, calves, or even your hand. Some options include the Buddist-Hindu demon called Oni mask (said to ward off evil spirits, oddly enough), the playful monkey mask called saru and the weird namahage mask, an evil version of Santa Claus.

But the most famous mask has to be the Hannya mask. Its devil horns, wide mouth, and sad eyes supposedly depict a jealous demon woman. So this mask symbolizes one. But it also represents wisdom and knowledge.

Another Japanese-style tattoo may be controversial, but you can’t not talk about irezumi without covering the yakuza.

Could you get a yakuza tattoo?

What is a Yakuza Tattoo?

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A yakuza tattoo is a full-body tattoo depicting imagery and symbolism relevant to the country’s culture, history and religion.

The Yakuza is a collection of the Japanese mafia, which evolved from the Edo Period. Criminals in 1603 to 1868 were tattooed by officials, usually on foreheads and arms; what were punishment tattoos then are what you’d consider prison tattoos now. But instead of the shame these markings intended to bring, the criminals worked with what they’d been branded with. They started adding to their prison tatt, using it for their traditions and telling tales with their tattoo.

When the Yakuza grew its influence, and in numbers, tattoos were outlawed. Their association with the underworld made them undesirable for authorities. Although tattoos aren’t illegal in modern Japan, Yakuza members aren’t exactly announcing their membership. This partly explains the hidden aspect of a yakuza tattoo.

The elaborate body art stops at the neck and elbows because yakuza tattoos aren’t meant to be seen. They symbolize allegiance and commitment to the Yakuza, tell the person’s story, and indicate the level of success a member has reached. Full-body ink isn’t cheap.

So should you get one as a “law-abiding” citizen and a foreigner?

It’s OK to get a yakuza tattoo if you stick to the traditions the group still follows: that your ink should never be seen, for starters. As one Tebori tattooist, Horiyoshi says, tattoos are appreciated in Japan when they’re invisible.

Yakuza tattoos are a rite of passage, not to be taken lightly. Like most tattoos, every ink tells a story and carries deep meaning. So don’t just turn to this style because it seems “fashionable.” If all that seems like it’s too big of a commitment, you’ve got other options for your Japanese-style tattoo.

By Mike Smith

Mike Smith, a talented writer and devoted art enthusiast with a deep love for tattoos. As a creative soul, Mike's passion for arts, culture, music, and lifestyle shines through his engaging writing. With a keen eye for detail, he delves into the world of tattoos, exploring their rich symbolism and captivating stories.

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