What is a Japanese tattoo, Irezumi?
Photo Credit: Zac Davies@flickr
Irezumi is a traditional Japanese art form of tattooing. Back in the Jomon period tattooing started for spiritual and decorative reasons. Even though many people have tattoos it doesn’t mean they were unanimously accepted. In the following Yayoi period from 300 BCE to 300 CE, the tattoo designs interested Chinese visitors, it was thought that the designs had spiritual significance and also it was a symbol of status. Since the Kofun period from 300 to 600 AD tattoos started to get a negative connotation. Instead of being seen as spiritual, it became a sign of punishment for criminals.
Photo Credit: Justin Wolfe@flickr
Until the Edo period from 1600 to 1868 CE, the influence of tattoos in Japanese changed many times. Tattoos were seen as a way to mark criminals but others would get decorative tattoos also. In the Edo period, the art form of Japanese tattoos began to develop into the art form it is today. The development of the tattoos is also related to the woodblock art prints. Woodblock artists began tattooing, they used the same tools to imprint designs onto human flesh. They would use chisels, gouges, and unique ink known as Nara ink. It is famous for turning blue-green under the skin. Scholars debate over which class of people had tattoos. Was it the wealthy higher class or was it the poor lower class?
Photo Credit: 56tattoo.net
Some common motifs for irezumi is mythological beasts and monsters such as dragons, kirin, baku, and foo dogs. For animals it could be birds, koi fish, tigers, and snakes. For flowers or plants, it could be peonies, cherry blossoms, lotuses, chrysanthemums, bamboo, and maple leaves. Other tattoos were inspired by ukiyo-e prints. Shinto kami (deities) such as tengu, a shinto devil were popular. Most of the time, there is a background such as clouds, waves, and wind bars.
Places to Get a Tattoo in Tokyo
Photo Credit: shiryudoh.jp
Shiryudou is a unique shop that specializes in tribal and esoteric designs. Rather than a solid compartmentalized design, the tattoos are geometric lines with intricate designs. They are subtle and elegant with very little color. This shop is great for those who haven’t gotten a tattoo before, the interior is like a salon.
[map lat=”35.621607″ lng=”139.678728″] [/map]
Address: 1-9-3 Kakinokizaka, Meguro Ward, Tokyo
Access: 10 minute walk from Toritsudaigaku Station
Hours: 11:00 AM – 20:00 PM
Website: Shiryudou (Japanese)
#2. Red Bunny Tattoo
Photo Credit: red-bunny.com
Red Bunny Tattoo is a spacious tattoo studio that specializes in quality and originality. This studio is different from other places because there is four artists working there, usually most shops are run by only one person and they require appointments. Red Bunny Tattoo has same-day service. One of the shops artists Akatsuki commented, “Standard dragons or carp are nice, but yokai (monsters) have become more popular recently” and also continued on with, “Sculptures at shrines and temples are also good inspiration for tattoos, so you might want to look for motifs there. Bring a picture and we’ll create a design for you. Tourists sometimes get their travel memories inked”.
[map lat=”35.705601″ lng=”139.577743″] [/map]
Red Bunny Tattoo
Address: 2-8-1 Motomachi, Kichijoji, Musashino City, Tokyo
Access: 5 minute walk from Kichijoji Station
Hours: 1:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Website: Red Bunny Tattoo (Japanese)
#3. 56 Tattoo
Photo Credit: 56tattoo.net
56 Tattoo is conveniently located in Shibuya, and one of Japan’s tattoo artist veteran Horimasa. He is a tattoo pioneer who learned his craft under Horitoku, one of Japan’s top tattooing masters. Horimasa is one of the most skilled artist in Tokyo and hos shop is highly regarded. The shop is well respected and there is different types of tattooing styles to choose from.
[map lat=”35.665089″ lng=”139.699979″] [/map]
Address: 209 Mifune-Bldg 1-5-14 Jinnan, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo
Access: 10 minute walk from Meiji Jingumae Station
Website: 56 Tattoo (Japanese)
#4. Honey Tattoo
Honey Tattoo based in Ikebukuro is owned by Horimitsu. He learned his craft from a master of traditional Japanese tattoo art. Horimitsu uses ancient tebori techniques to create beautiful pieces. Most artists use machines but Horimitsu does everything by hand. Traditional Japanese tattoos generally take up the entire back or arm, but smaller designs need to be handcrafted. Repeat meetings are needed for larger tattoos because they require size adjustments. It is worth the time, this is the hot couture within the tattoo world.
[map lat=”35.737388″ lng=”139.712978″] [/map]
Address: 1-16-36 Ikebukuro, Toyoshima Ward, Tokyo
Access: 13 minute walk from Ikebukuro Station
Hours: 12:00 AM – 10:00 PM
Website: Honey Tattoo (Japanese)
#5. Studio Muscat
Photo Credit: muscat-tattoo.com
Studio Muscat is owned by female tattoo artist Asao, she is super friendly and down to earth. This is a small and very clean tattoo shop in Shibuya. A lot of female musicians go to Asao because they say they feel less threatened by her. She can do many styles, but the most common style is tribal, meaning strong lines and shapes. The shapes are delicate and it is unmistakably Japanese. She gets inspiration from Japanese drawings and woodblock prints.
[map lat=”35.654125″ lng=”139.702901″] [/map]
Address: 3F-D Green Heights, 6-6 Uguisudanicho, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo
Access: 7 minute walk from Shibuya Station
Hours: 11:00 AM – 8:00 PM
Website: Studio Muscat