History of Japanese Tattoos

The Japanese tattoo has a very long history, and may have made its first appearance as far back as the 5th century BC. However, tattoos did not gain respectability for a very long time. From the 6th century AD onwards, they were reserved exclusively for punishment and both criminals and untouchables were identified, with marks on their arms or foreheads.

History of Japanese TattoosIt was only in the late 17th century that the tattoo began to evolve from a shameful brand into a decorative embellishment. But it was not until the mid-1800s that it really started to take off, under the influence of a very popular book called Suikoden or The Water Margin.

Finally, just as high society was becoming interested towards the end of 19 century, the government decided that tattooing was a threat to public morality and tried to outlaw it altogether. The country was being opened up to the West for the first time and the fear was that tattooing gave outsiders the wrong impression, suggesting that Japan was a superstitious nation and out of touch with the rest of the world. Ironically, the ban against tattooing did not extend to the incoming foreigners who were thrilled by the intricacy of the Japanese work and only too happy to submit themselves to the needles of the masters.

History of Japanese Tattoos

Even today, the tattooed are a very secretive people who tend not to display their decoration in public and prefer to leave a river of clear skin running down the chest so that they can still wear the traditional hapi coat without fear of exposure.

History of Japanese Tattoos

In Japan, where the body is treated as a whole canvas, the tattoo is a work of art which may take many hours to complete. The tattooes must be only too well aware of the commitment , both of time and money, involved. What is it then that motivates them? Perhaps it is the desire to acquire a badge of belonging or to undergo a rite of passage which will mark the transition into adulthood. Or maybe they see their tattoos as talismen to keep them safe from danger or disease. Whatever their motivation, once tattooed, they will never be fully naked again.

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