25 Yakuza Tattoo Art Forms

When it comes to tattoos each one has its own appeal and it also has its own set of detractors And when it comes down to Yakuza tattoos you will find that there is no dearth of people with their own strong opinions on this. This is because the Yakuza tattoos symbolic of organized crime in Japan. In the past, Japan never liked or supported the idea of body arts in all its different forms.As Japan moved on to development and a bit of westernization, tattoos have become more commonly accepted. But even today, tattoos are somehow associated with those into crimes and activities related to crime.

Once upon a time, the Government of Japan used to use tattoos as a type of punishment. In the eight century, people were often sentenced to being tattooed. It was an alternative to being sentenced to death. The thing was the tattoo would identify the person with it as having been punished for a crime. It would be a visible proof of his crime for the entire world to see and this would make the person lose face.


In fact the type of crime committed by a person could be identified by the type of the tattoo and from the place where the tattoo was located. Around the 1600s this practice of meting out tattoos as a means of punishing people for their crime started petering out. Soon people who had tattoos administered to them as a punishment would find means to alter or hide them. This would be done by changing the symbols or camouflaging the details of their punishment and imprisonment.

When it comes to tracing out how the Yakuza tattoo came into being, very little is known. But one could trace them back to 1700s when the yakuza where linked with tattoos and body art in Japan. The group would show that a member belongs to a particular syndicate by the tattoo they had on. In the olden days the yakuza tattoos were drawn utilizing steel that was sharpened or by using bamboo or with other hand tools.


The process of tattooing was quite a long one and full of pain. This became a part of the ritual for becoming a Yakuza. One would be initiated into the Yakuza with a tattoo in front of people who witnessed these. The way the person endured the pain of the tattooing process would show their allegiance and dedication to the Yakuza. As time passed the Yakuza tattoos become more detailed even covering the entire body. It used to have images that would denote the meaning and objective of the group. The bigger and more elaborate the tattoo, the more dedicated and committed the person would be considered. The tattoos would be shown off when they would meet for social occasions.


Till the year 1945, tattoos were not legally acceptable in Japan. The legalization took place not out of choice of the Government but due to the move of occupying troops inwards during the world war -2. With the tattoos becoming legal and with western influences, tattooing has become more commonly acceptable in Japan. Though even now people view it as a form of rebelling against society.


Due to such negative implications many Japanese tattoo artists have been carrying on their work on the sly and by taking clients who have fixed an appointment. While many in Japan see tattoos as fashion, even today it is not viewed without thoughts of being associated with criminal connotations. If you are sporting a full body tattoo done elaborately you would be considered to be associated with the Yakuza and some bathhouses would refuse you entry.

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Hidden in Plain Sight

Even though Yakuza members are proud of their affiliation they generally don’t show off their impressive bodysuit tattoos unless they are among other Yakuza. Many Yakuza gatherings will feature mean who remove their shirts to show off and compare their tattoos with other tattoos. Sometimes they will remove their pants as well to show off full bodysuit tattoos. Because these tattoos take years to complete those who have full bodysuit tattoos are easily recognizable as the people who have been in the organization the longest.

It is not considered acceptable to show off your tattoos if you are a new member of the Yakuza or to show off the tattoos to anyone who is not Yakuza. While some women are getting the bodysuit Irezumi tattoos done as a method of rebellion or as a method of acceptance the practice still primarily involves men. Many members of the organization wear high necked shirts with long sleeves and long pants no matter what time of year it is in order to hide their stunning ink artwork.

The backlash against ink in Japan isn’t just against Yakuza members, although it is partially to keep Yakuza members out of businesses and government organizations. The mayor of one Japanese city made it a crime for any government workers to have tattoos. They were told to find a job in the private sector or have the ink removed. This applies to all workers, not just members of the Yakuza, but one of the reasons for the crackdown is to keep Yakuza members out of positions of power within the city government.

While the Yakuza has a reputation for being very traditional and very shadowy the stunningly beautiful Yakuza tattoo styles are being copied by ink enthusiasts all over the world.


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