Japanese Body Art

by Lyanne Thomas
(Manila, Philippines)

Japanese Body Art

Japanese Body Art is also known as Irezumi or horimono, otherwise known as Japanese tattoo art or body art has a very long history.

It is said that the early Japanese people or Ainu decorated their body with paint and used facial tattoos. This was done by the Ainu people for social and decorative purposes, however scholars also believed that these tattoos were not only to represent one`s social status but claimed that it had some spiritual purpose.

Japanese Body Art - The Stigma Begins

When Buddhism was recognized in Japan, tattooing or body art started to have a negative connotation. Body art was considered a barbaric act and was associated with uncivilized people. Japanese tattoos were also used by prostitutes to add to their attractiveness and likewise it also became a form of punishment for crimes. Criminals or offenders were marked to identify them in society. Starting in 1720, tattooing became an official punishment, a criminal may receive a tattoo around his arm or on his forehead for every crime he commits and because of this, people marked with a tattoo became unwanted and outcasts in the society.

Wearing tattoos in Japan is not without stigma even in its widespread popularity. Some onsen or Japanese baths won't let you in if you have a tattoo since it might scare some of the customers. If you have a tattoo, for any reason, you will be told to leave. Tattoo = criminal in Japan. Maybe that is not fair, but that thinking prevails.

Japanese tattooing was recognized as an art and was appreciated for its beauty and creativity during the Edo period. A Chinese novel titled, “Suikoden” triggered the development of tattooing. The popular novel was about rebel courage and manly bravery where heroes wore tattoos. The Japanese people then started to embrace tattooing as something cool and creative.

Japanese tattoos are not only very detailed but are likewise expensive; yet despite the cost many embrace it not only because of its beauty but also because of its popularity. It is also important to note that Japanese body art or tattoos are unlike the traditional western tattoo that can be completed in one sitting. For a body suit tattoo covering the arms, legs, chest and back it might take up to five years of once a week visits for it to be completed.

Perseverance and tolerance to pain is an asset for the tattoo aficionado.

It was not until 1945 when the ban for Japanese tattooing was lifted.

Westerners started adopting this kind of art, and they even went to Japan to seek a tattoo artist and have their bodies decorated. Thus, tattooing became more trendy and stylish as time went by. Although as mentioned above, there are still those who associate tattoos with criminals, gangsters, mafia members and outcasts.

There are many books that showcase different designs. Check the internet and you'll find many sites offering artistic and fashionable tattoo designs.

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