Irezumi (入れ墨, 入墨, 紋身, 刺花, 剳青, 黥 or 刺青) is the Japanese name for the traditional tattoos that Yakuza members get. Irezumi means “insert ink” in Japanese. These tattoos were used for decorative and spiritual purposes. The process was done by hand poking, meaning that the ink was inserted beneath the skin using non electrical tools. Doing this is expensive, painful, and time consuming. In ancient Japan, during the Shogun era, criminals would be tattooed to stand out from the rest of the population. The tattooed people would stick together, and eventually formed gangs. Eventually, they became known as the Yakuza. In the culture of the Yakuza, these tattoos became symbols of status. Girlfriends, wives, and mistresses associated with Yakuza would often get Irezumi to show their affiliation with the Yakuza. Japanese samurai would tattoo themselves so that once they died, if all of their clothes and armor were stolen, they could still be identified. In modern day japan, you can not enter many establishments, especially hot springs or bathhouses if you have a tattoo. This is because it is believed that if you have a tattoo that you are in or associated with the Yakuza. In Japan, it is said that if you get a tattoo, it means that you can never go home. Getting traditional hand poking tattoos is very dangerous. Because of the way the ink is inserted under the skin, it makes it so that it is impossible for the skin to breathe. Because of this, in Japan, it is said that a person who has a tattoo like that has guts (konjyou). In recent years, tattoos have become much more acceptable in most societies. They are now seen as fashion rather than gang affiliation. Many people worldwide and of many different ethnicities now have irezumi-like tattoos, without even knowing the meaning or history behind them. Getting oriental tattoos and being “worldly” is seen as very cool in western culture. It is up to each person to decide if they think this is okay or not, but I, personally, find this very irritating (as I am Japanese).
The Yakuza and Irezumi
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