Did you know that a lot of contemporary tattoo designs — even in places as far as Manchester, NH — are actually based from some much older and much more traditional forms of ink art? One of those is Irezumi or the traditional way of Japanese tattooing. Due to its colorful designs and powerful motifs, Irezumi continues to be popular among many, especially to non-Japanese folks.
Now, to understand why that came to be, we have to look at both the elements and the history of this tattooing method:
With regards to history, it's said that the earliest proof of tattooing in Japan was found on clay figurines with their faces painted. And the oldest of these were found to have dated back as far as 5000BCE. The oldest written record, however, is believed to be from 297CE, which was made by the Chinese. Back then, tattooing was said to have spiritual significance and was even a form of status symbol. But, the Chinese found this act barbaric and used it as a form of punishment instead. So when the Japanese rulers began adopting a similar attitude as the Chinese (somewhere around the 7th century), tattooing fully became associated with the people of the lower class. These included people such as criminals, peasants, gangs, and outcasts.
This attitude towards tattoos lasted for a thousand years. It was only in the 17th century, during the start of the Edo Period, when Japan resorted to other means of criminal punishment. They dropped the tattooing from the list and began experiencing a change in how tattoos were treated and used. So those who did have negative marks on their skin decided to cover them with bigger, more colorful, and more beautiful images.
This was also when courtesans began to tattoo themselves with the names of their favorite clients to express loyalty and undying love. Similarly, couriers and especially steeplejacks started to make use of tattoos as a substitute cover of their skin instead of clothes. This is because their line of work required them to move around a lot and made clothing troublesome. Steeplejacks are skilled climbers who were considered as vital people during festival preparations and constructions in general. These steeplejacks were the pride of their neighborhood thanks to their important roles in festivals. So, it was only natural that the decorative tattoos that covered their entire bodies began to earn a positive connotation once again.
Unfortunately, tattooing wasn’t really legal in Japan for a long time despite that. For a while, the government only allowed this practice for foreigners. So during the start of Japan’s globalization in the 1900s as well as during the 2 great world wars, many foreign sailors and soldiers had themselves tattooed the same way the steeplejacks were. And they were the means for this form of art to be revealed all across the globe.
So if you ever see motifs like dragons, lions, tigers, oni (Japanese demons), or koi for body art in places like Manchester, then that’s most probably Irezumi you’re looking at. Apparently, these are the most common themes for Japanese tattooing. That’s because they symbolize characteristics such as power, wisdom, longevity, and luck. Many Irezumi tattoos also make use of images such as clouds, ocean waves, fire, and even flowers (particularly the ever-popular sakura), as this method also focuses on the beauty of nature. And just as already implied by this tattooing’s function for steeplejacks back in the day, the ink would fill an entire region of a person’s body. This would completely cover the skin to the point that you won’t look bare even if you are.
And yes, this tattooing practice is still popular nowadays. There’s also the fact that the attention to detail here is the make-or-break element of an image. So, an Irezumi tattoo done right is certainly a view to behold.
With that said, NH Custom Tattoo is the best place to go to for Irezumi tattoo designs if you’re in Manchester, NH or the surrounding areas. We’ve got the precision skills to perfect the lines of these Japanese motifs, as well as the tools and dedication to perfect each design. So feel free to check out our photos here on our website to see our previous works and find out by yourself how much we can offer. And if you’re interested in body art, give us a call at (603) 833-3458 right away!