Thursday, April 17, 2014

Japanese Tattoo – Irezumi (by Reiko Kobayashi)

Tattooing has been getting popular among the young population in Japan. There are various kinds of Tattoo such as flowers, letters, animals and Chinese characters. Each design has a different meaning; Butterflies symbolizes a metamorphosis, beauty, rebirth and change. Cherries mean the fertility and desire. One popular kind of Japanese traditional Tattoo is called Irezumi and it has a long history. It is considered that the design of this clay dolls’ surface represents Irezumi, which were created 500 B.C.E. In mid-Edo era around 1750, Irezumi was widely spreading its popularity in different occupations and with different purposes. The express-messengers and firemen in this era that were barely clothed and had Irezumi on their back or arms to flaunt their strength and courage. Irezumi in this period can be seen in the famous old pictures like Yankin by Utagawa Kuniyoshi who is one of the most famous Ukiyoe painters. 

One of the most popular designs at this time and still now is the image of dragons. In Japan, there is a famous legend about dragon: Long time ago a village was suffering from severe drought for many months One day they got together and prayed for rain, and a huge dragon showed up to the sky. It brought many clouds and made it rain. Since then, dragon has been worshiped as a god. The image of dragon in tattoos symbolizes authority, power and courage. 

In Japan, Irezumi has been tabooed for a long time since it traditionally was a symbol of outlaws called Yakuza. People tattooed were not allowed to go swimming in public pools or enjoy hot springs where tattoos were seen. This tradition still remains all over Japan but Irezumi has been carried from generation to generation with high quality. The traditional hatred toward Irezumi added another meaning of dragon tattoo, hidden strong will. People such as express-messengers and firemen back in Edo era flaunted their power by showing their Irezumi. On the other hand, people tattooed usually hide their tattoo. They endure the great pain when they get tattooed and it cannot be showed off to people in public. The environment surrounding Irezumi have sanctified Irezumi

Recently tattooing is considered as a kind of fashion; however each design has a meaning. So does dragon tattoo. Mostly people tend to have tattooed dragon on their whole back. It shows the dynamism and uplifting feeling. The face of dragon comes on the center and its body is balanced on both sides. It symbolizes that they reveal they have power or courage or confidence. It also indicates that they have protection on their back by having dragon tattoo. Right arm to breast are another popular part of having dragon tattoo. The dragon opens its mouth and shows fangs being ready to fight. The head come to just on top of the breast. It represents that dragon protects person’s heart from enemies or bales. In addition to that, having tattoo close to the heart shows the closeness, intimacy, partnership, and trust with tattooed dragon. Irezumi have enabled people to possess religious belief in their bodies as visualized image. Tattooing has been tabooed in Japan for a long time; however, that fact nurtured tattooing as worship.

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