Japanese tattoo Irezumi: Art, history, preservation or rejection?

Around the world, perhaps there is hardly any culture like Japanese tattoo Irezumi – both historical and literary, once loved, but ultimately rejected.

Thousand years of Japanese tattoo origin
Although Asian countries are not the cradle of tattoo art, the art of “drawing on the skin” appears in Japan quite early. Proven archaeological relics, the first tattoos appeared here were around 10,000 BC. By the time of Yayoi (Iron Age, 300 BC), Japanese tattoo was not merely for the purpose of decorating and beautifying the body. It is used as a kind of marking, distinguishing slaves, prisoners or criminals. From being jewelry on the body, the tattoo has been transformed into a form of punishment by the old Japanese.

Being entailed by the flow of modern history, it was not until the end of the 17th century, that is, during the Edo period (1603-1867), the tattoo art in Japan really flourished. Few people know that tattooing in the kingdom of the sun can grow to such a peak in the Edo period, thanks to woodblock printing (Ukiyo-e).

From the lower classes to the upper classes, everyone owns a tattoo on their bodies.

Gradually, it became a typical Japanese culture. It is said that when Westerners began to travel to Asia, it was difficult to distinguish between the Asians who were similar in appearance. But thanks to the dragon, phoenix or Oni (the way of the elves in Japan), people from other continents easily identify the people of Phu Tang.

Of course, by Japanese tattoo – Irezumi is completely different from the Western tattoo. Irezumi are large tattoos, many textures, colors and can cover body parts (back, arms, legs). Irezumi is more inclined to create a complete picture of the human body than small, minimalist details like Western tattoos. The main characters in Irezumi’s body paintings can be mentioned as dragons (symbolizing strength), koi (energy), oni (elves, symbolizing human protection) or waves, water (strong, cumbersome but also gentle, calm).

Besides, Irezumi does not use machines but depends on the skills of the tattooist, along with the ink especially the nara ink. Large tattoos, manual tattoos, so many people have to spend 5 years to complete a sophisticated “picture” on their backs.

Tattoo art in Japan has such a long history, but its development path does not follow straight trajectory after the Edo period.

When art is turned away
In the second half of the 19th century, the Japanese government began to ban tattoo forms. Irezumi gradually became frustrated by other waves of culture pouring into the land of Funan at that time. Those who own tattoos on the body, to avoid government scrutiny, must find ways to hide the tattoo behind the clothes.
In recent years, the movement of protecting and preserving Japanese tattoo culture has become more and more exciting. In March 2018, the National Museum of Japan – the United States in Los Angeles held a traditional Japanese tattoo exhibition called “Maintaining the Japanese Tattoo Tradition in the Modern World“. The exhibition lasted 6 months, impressed with the courses on the history of Japanese tattoo, and exhibited the works of famous Japanese tattoo artists ever.