Irezumi are traditional Japanese tattoos that are applied by hand, using a wooden handles and metal needles attached to a fine silk thread. This special method requires a special type of tattoo ink called Nara ink or zumi. As you might imagine, this type of tattoo is time-consuming to do and it is much more painful than being tattooed with a tattoo gun. The traditional form, which has been practiced for centuries, is only done by a few specialists called Horishi.
A Horishi generally works with an apprentice who is trained for months and even years. Tattoos were outlawed in Japan in Meiji Period (1868-1912) and it wasn’t until 1948, that the ban was lifted. Irezumi became synonymous with crime and criminality and many members of yakuza avoided tattoos to elude suspicion. We decided to look at some Japanese tattoo artists’ designs and others inspired by them. Some practice the traditional methods, while others favor new approaches (Yobori or “Yo” is a common slang term for tattoos created with a machine). Here are 20 impressive irezumi that prove that Japan is where it’s tatt.
20. A Big Back Tattoo
The super-sized tattoo appears to be a figure from Japanese folklore. Its glowing red eyes and beckoning mouth both excites and frightens.
19. Koi Fish
Koi fish are commonly tattooed in an upright position like this to signify good luck, overcoming difficulties, and calmness. This vibrant tattoo has super crisp, clean lines and we love it.
18. Kiku (chrysanthemum)
This tattoo was done in the traditional method by a Korean tattoo artist. The Japanese regard the chrysanthemum as their “solar flower.” The Japanese Imperial Family adopting it as their emblem and the Seal of the Emperor himself.
17. A Furry Companion
Another Korean artist created this tattoo. The artist described the design and application as coming from the “new school.” This cat is undeniably cute.
16. A Haunting Skill
This haunting skull tattoo was done in a similar fashion to the traditional Japanese method, but as you can see it’s a very unique, contemporary design. The artist is based in Oregon.
This amazing dragon is so detailed it’s hard to believe it was achieved. We love the shapes the smoke forms as it leaves the dragon’s nostrils.
14. Vibrant Color
This bold tattoo features some thrilling colors that contrast with deep black and greys. We believe this type of tattoo is called an Hikae tattoo just means a chest panel tattoo. The character depicted here is a daruma doll, a traditional doll.
13. Big and Bold
This giant tattoo hails from Spain. As you have probably picked up on by now, Japanese tattooing and design are beloved around the world. This amazing design certainly feels inspired.
12. Cherry Blossoms
The Japanese terms for a sleeve tattoo that goes all the way to the wrist is Nagasode. The deep black ink that forms the background of the tattoo creates a vivid contrast from the white petals of the cherry blossoms.
11. A Big Koi
This Japanese-inspired tattoo comes from Italy. This big, beautiful koi is a wonderful shape and design for the upper arm.
10. A Biwa Lute
This fascinating tattoo was inspired by Banchō Sarayashiki a Japanese ghost story about broken promises. A biwa is a type of lute and you can see that it’s haunted in this image.
9. Tiger, Tiger
This neon-infused tiger tattoo looks electric. This tattoo was done in London in the traditional Japanese method.
8. Wabori in Russia
Japanese tattoos that have Japanese designs are called Wabori. This sleeve tattoo is an example from a Russian tattoo artist collective, ONIWABAN. Its members are obsessed with Japanese design and tattoos.
7. Cat and Mouse
Fancy a game of cat and mouse? A tattoo artist in Taiwan did when they created this fantastic design.
6. Jigoku Dayū
This tattoo was created in Nagoya. It depicts Jigoku Dayū, the Hell Courtesan who was visited by a Zen monk named Ikkyū. This enchanting story from the Edo period sure makes for one amazing tattoo.
5. Cherry Blossoms in the Wind
The popular tattoo motif sakura-fubuki translates to “cherry blossom storm.” There is so much contrast and movement with this piece that does indeed look stormy.
4. Sushi Cat
This tattoo design combines traditional and contemporary tattoo design. It’s the result of an international tattoo collective, Zerosen Tattoo Crew who exchange ideas and artists between Brazil and Japan.
3. Another Dramatic Jigoku Dayū Tattoo
Ichi Hatano is a tattoo artist from Tokyo who completed this dramatic Jigoku Dayū design.
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This is another tattoo that hails from Taiwan. The artist, Yue Lin said that Japanese tattooing and Kabuki theater inspired this incredibly vibrant design. Kubuki performers wear Kumadori a type of stage makeup done in the Aragato style that is characterized by bright, bold, colors and shading.
1. Red-Crowned Crane
This is another tattoo from South Korea. This is a tattoo of a red-crowned crane or Japanese crane. It is one of the rarest cranes in the world. It has traditionally been seen as a symbol of longevity, luck, and fidelity. In Japanese culture, these birds are highly regarded and it’s rumored that they can live for 1,000 years.
We hoped you enjoyed these 20 stunning tattoos.
Andrew is a Chicago-based writer who enjoys finding the best of the internet, obsessively making lists, and cooking for friends. After studying Film and Art History, he developed a deep love for both topics. Celebrity news, pop culture, and stories that bring people together are his passions.
- 1 20. A Big Back Tattoo
- 2 19. Koi Fish
- 3 18. Kiku (chrysanthemum)
- 4 17. A Furry Companion
- 5 16. A Haunting Skill
- 6 15. Dragon
- 7 14. Vibrant Color
- 8 13. Big and Bold
- 9 12. Cherry Blossoms
- 10 11. A Big Koi
- 11 10. A Biwa Lute
- 12 9. Tiger, Tiger
- 13 8. Wabori in Russia
- 14 7. Cat and Mouse
- 15 6. Jigoku Dayū
- 16 5. Cherry Blossoms in the Wind
- 17 4. Sushi Cat
- 18 3. Another Dramatic Jigoku Dayū Tattoo
- 19 2. Kabuki-Inspired
- 20 1. Red-Crowned Crane
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