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  • Japanese tattoo culture is alive and well...and legal!

Japanese tattoo culture is alive and well...and legal!

Posted on November 19, 2020


Although tattoos are still more on the taboo side in Japan, they have undoubtedly become more and more trendy in recent years. In September 2020, Japan’s high courts ruled that tattoo artists would no longer be required to have a medical license to practice their craft—great and long-awaited news for a country with centuries of tattoo culture embedded deep in its past. This long history of tattoo artists practicing irezumi, the traditional art of inserting ink into the skin, has resulted in a country home to a number of highly skilled masters. They may be hard to find but they definitely are out there and more so after the new high court ruling, so why not try a Japanese traditional tattoo when you visit Japan?


tanuki racoon dog Japanese tattoo

photo by @horitadajapan

This type of cute depiction of tanuki, or racoon dog, can be found throughout Japan. You’ll likely see them guarding people’s homes on the doorstep. Contrary to what you might think, it is not a mythical creature!


arm sleeve Japanese tattoo

photo by @horitadajapan

This tattoo artist has created a stunning scene of a tiger and oni (ogre) in a heated battle. With the tiger’s claws fully extended and the oni baring its teeth with its sword drawn and ready to plunge, there is a high sense of tension evoked by the artist’s ink-work.


Japanese tattoo calf tiger

photo by @horiken1st

The tiger makes up one of the twelve zodiac signs in the junishi, which was a calendar system that was imported from China to Japan. In the original Chinese zodiac story, the great race between all the animals, the tiger came in third place due to his competitive and quick nature. This zodiac animal is said to signify determination, decisiveness, and wit.

Japanese tattoo chest and arms cherry blossom

photo by @horitadajapan

The cherry blossom or sakura motif has infused Japanese art and culture since the beginning of the previous millennium. The contemplation of cherry blossom flowers in the springtime that is known as hanami or “cherry-blossom viewing,” is a meditative and philosophical practice. The flowers are evocative of the ephemerality of life as reflected by the short period in which the cherry blossoms come to life before soon falling off.

Japanese tattoo woman kimono

photo by @horitadajapan

This tattoo shows a woman wearing a kimono and arranging her hair with traditional Japanese hairpins. The colors the artist has used and the detail on the woman’s hair is absolutely stunning.

Japanese tattoo koi fish arm sleeve

photo by @horiken1st

Highly symbolic in both Japan and Buddhism, koi fish represent strength, good luck, and courage. This is rooted in Japanese folklore, wherein the koi fish would swim up to the Dragon Gate on the Yellow River and attempt to climb the falls. If it was successful, the koi would be transformed into a dragon. If they did not make it, they would fall to their deaths. The image of a koi swimming upriver, even into a turbulent waterfall, mirrors the Japanese value of perseverance.

Japanese tattoo arm cranes

photo by @kawazuya_tattoo

Cranes are a highly revered creature and stand as a strong cultural symbol in Japan. Harking back to Japanese folklore, cranes were said to live for one thousand years. They grew to take on the meaning of fidelity, good luck, and longevity and have featured on important cultural artifacts including samurai crests and national bank notes. Imagery of cranes can be found throughout Japanese art.

Japanese tattoo samurai

photo by @horitadajapan

Love this tattoo of a samurai with furrowed brows and angered red eyes. The chrysanthemum (kiku in Japanese) on the sides of his headpiece are yet another prominent symbol in Japanese culture that represents the Japanese monarchy or simply the nation as a whole.

Japanese tattoo snake and flower

photo by @horiken1st

Snakes are another animal of the zodiac system of junishi. People born in the year of the serpent are said to speak few words but are deep thinkers and are also incredibly wise.


What zodiac sign are you and would you get a Japanese traditional tattoo in its image?


Written by: Maya Kimura Watts