raditional japanese sleeve tattoos are a large part of what is known as “irezumi”, which is a traditional form of tattooing that uses symbolic japanese imagery. Japanese sleeve tattoos are timeless. They display not only traditional values but can also tell individual stories of the wearer’s beliefs, experiences, and personal journeys. The arrangement of different elements contribute to the storytelling aspect of the tattoo.
Japanese sleeve tattoos are designed with careful attention to the flow and composition of the overall artwork. The tattoo artist considers the natural contours of the body to create a harmonious and balanced design.
Japanese sleeve tattoos are meant to be applied in pairs, to the right and left sides of the body in tandem. They totally cover a specific portion of the arms, and come in three possible lengths: the half sleeve, the three quarter sleeve, and the full sleeve. The chest is always included as part of the sleeve. The tattoos have a beginning and end point, and everything in between is tattooed completely. These formats are sacrosanct in the formation of authentic Japanese sleeves.
The Japanese sleeve tattoo can be applied to one arm at a time. However, the tradition of Japanese tattooing is to see, organize, and tattoo the body as one whole made up out of pairs. Irezumi has a great effect when tattooed in this way, and the whole gains far greater than the sum of the two sides when this strategy is employed.
Japanese sleeve tattoos work together to create a dynamic relationship between the arms. The same motif will be used on each arm, but treated in a different way, creating a push and pull that serve to set the tattoos in motion. Classic motifs for the Japanese sleeves are animals such as dragons, koi, and tigers that represent power and strength, the natural beauty of the Japanese flower such as the cherry blossoms that symbolize the human condition, and folk warriors and heroes who again carry the ultimate meaning of irezumi, which is power. These images are set against a background of an elemental world comprised of wind, wave, and cloud. Each part of the design works in accord with the other, which creates great cohesion and layers of meaning.