Traditional Japanese Tattoos


Irezumi Tattoos

The tattoo is an art form that first appeared very early on in our shared history.

Many different cultures around the globe have practiced this unusual and yet totally humanist artform. The reasons for being tattooed have varied from people to people, and changed and evolved over time.

The Japanese tattoo seems to be, more than any other tattoo heritage,  highly concerned with the overall aesthetic of the work and places a high emphasis on the tattooing as art.

Beauty, power, and artistry are truly hallmarks of the traditional Japanese tattoo. With such a striking appearance, it could be tempting to assume that these works of art are expressing only visual appeal. In fact, they are striking and arresting at a glance, often leaving us stunned in response.

Upon closer inspection, one finds intricate meaning in these brocaded tattoos. Stories unfold, relationships proliferate, and legends are passed on.

Many people express the desire for a traditional tattoo from the culture without truly understanding the significance of the art. By understanding a little of the pictorial language that Japanese tattoo artists use, the art grows in your heart and soul, just as it is a feast for your eyes.

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What Makes a Traditional Japanese Tattoo?

Traditional Japanese tattoos employ a set number of designs to create a complete and perfected style of art. In my humble opinion, the constant expression of this form seems to be “the essence of the world”. By wearing this work, we emphasize our relationship with that essence.

“True Reality,” or, “The Suchness of Things,” are zen aphorisms that describe this ideal state. “The Clear Mirror”, reality is seen as it is, without distortion. I see Japanese tattoos expressing this mindset perfectly. Empty, dark areas of Void are intersected with bright pictures portraying the power of nature, of fable, of the story of humanity itself.

There is an inherent balance in the work. Each image is offset and complemented by another. Each colorful tattoo design is backed up with a setting of rich blacks and greys using the incomparable sumi ink of Japan. The elements of nature figure heavily in the work. Flowers fall behind scenes of sometimes violent action. The wind blows strongly behind each picture.

The back is the main canvas for this extreme artform. The Japanese back tattoo extends down the buttocks, and down to the middle of the thigh. This is the anchor of the Japanese bodysuit, as well as its culmination and zenith. The sleeves flow forward from this center. The chest panels flow forth, and spill down the ribs and stomach. The leg sleeve finishes off the Japanese bodysuit, or “horimono”.

The placement of images is very important and is an art all in itself. The format of the horimono is highly specific, exact. The practice of learning the way all these body parts connect in the Japanese tattoo is a large part of the journey towards becoming a Japanese tattoo master.

The pairings of images are either right or wrong. They are black and white. An artist who understands these pairings will never fail to pair correctly. Ignorance of the pairings will always result in work that does not make sense, work that is visual gibberish.

These are just a few of the very important aspects of the Japanese traditional tattoo that the artist must understand. A good deal of knowledge is required to work in this prestigious style. Some of the history, culture, and social customs of Japan must be known. The artwork of Japan’s different eras is another area of study the tattooist must have undertaken. The way those arts inform the Japanese tattoo image canon is extremely important.

Finally, there is the question of the unique artform of the Japanese tattoo itself. The images and rendering that are featured, the setting of each imagen, the stories, myths and legends of Japan and how they are portrayed all matter. These stories, from one little island set off to itself in the far, far East, can have such universal impact, meaning, and sentiment. As a traditional Japanese tattoo artist, the sentiment behind the entire tattoo process is what makes the art form unique.

Some Dallas tattoo artists have become highly enamored of the Japanese culture, Japanese art, and, ultimately, the Japanese art tattoo. It is a high point in the world of tattoo, very detailed, prolific, and staggering in size and proportion.

The tattooist is drawn to this style almost without exception. It could be said that the Japanese tattoo is the most highly evolved, the most pointedly refined tattoo work in the world.

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Traditional Japanese Tattoo Designs

The recurring motifs of the Japanese Tattoo, or Irezumi, emphasize and re-emphasize their power over and over again. Principal among these motifs are mythological creatures such as the dragon, the phoenix, the Chinese lion.

The cherry blossom, or Sakura, must be agreed to be the most tattooed flower in all of Japan. It represents the fleeting beauty of life, and the fine line between life and death in this world. Earthly creatures exhibiting certain attributes are also prized images in the Japanese tattoo. Koi, Japanese tigers, and, less frequently, tortoises are examples of this subset of designs.

The Buddhist pantheon is represented in tattoos as well. Two of my favorites from these selections are the Bodhisattva of compassion, Kannon, and the Bodhisattva of wisdom, Fudo Myoo.

A bodhisattva is a being who has achieved enlightenment but stays behind to help fight against human suffering. Perhaps the ultimate Japanese designs include heroes from Japan’s rich folk history. Some of these were historical figures involved in the very creation of Japan. Some are folk legends that derived from stories that lauded these character’s achievements of strength and vigor.

These are just a few examples of the imagery used in the wonderful world of Irezumi. These images and their associated meanings are highly coveted. They should not be shared freely, but, bonded over in highly vetted communions of initiates or chosen ones.

Dallas Tattoo Artist Attempts to Master the Traditional Japanese Tattoo

If you are in the market for the best tattoo artist in Dallas, Texas, but are also seeking an artist who specializes in Japanese art tattoos, then it’s time to make an appointment with Carl Hallowell. Stop by the best tattoo shops in Dallas, Texas, and speak to Carl Hallowell, a tattoo artist who truly understands the fundamentals of the art of the tattoo.

Hallowell specializes in traditional Japanese tattoo designs. For Japanese tattoo work with a traditional, correct look, contact Carl Hallowell today to begin your tattoo consultation.

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