The Art of Irezumi Tattoo

Irezumi  is a form of Japanese tattooing. Literally translated it means piercing or stabbing the skin with blue or green. Irezumi may possibly go back to the paleolithic times, as far as 10,000 BC. Simple cord like markings on paleolithic man are thought to be tattoos. There is still much debate about this. In the Yayoi period, 300 BC to 300 AD Irezumi was prevalent and talked about by Chinese visitors. The tattoos of this time period were thought to have spiritual and status meanings.  By the Kofun period, 300 AD to 600 AD the symbolism behind tattooing or Irezumi had started to turn. As in Rome, tattoos were now beginning to be used as a punishment on criminals to mark them.

It wasn’t until the end of the Edo period 1868 that decorative tattooing really flourished. Mythical creatures like dragrons and  ferocious tigers were popular. Woodblock artists started tattooing their clients using the same tools like chisels and gouges and most importantly Nara Ink that turns blue green under the skin.


Soon it became a criminal offense to get tattooed. Irezumi went underground. In 1945 the onslaught of Armed forces legalized tattooing and once again you could get a tattoo but it still had a criminal element as it was favored by the Japanese mafia and still has that stigma at present.

Today’s Japanese youth get more of the Americanized tattoos that can be easily hidden, but some very wealthy and very dedicated get an Irezumi. It can take up to $50,000 and 30 years according to one source, to get a full body done. Many tattoo artists have traveled to Japan to learn the art of Irezumi for example Thomas Lockhart, legend in the tattoo world,  has gotten tattooed himself by famous Irezumi artists.

You may ask how this all applies to writing or to me? In my book Stained, which will be released digitally in September, the heroine is a tattoo artist who has studied Irezumi. She also happens to be an Irish natural born witch. She’s opened a tattoo parlor on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California where she weaves her art and spells into unique tattoos for her supernatural customers who start to turn up dead.

A newly inked tattoo.

For those who can endure the pain or for those who equate tattoo pain with the pleasure of the art the world is a much more colorful place because of them.

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