The Irezumi; Samurai’s and Yakuza:
We have talked about the Irezumi before. Today we want to revisit it and perhaps get around to bits, that the last article may have overlooked, about the history of this amazing tattoo art. The traditional tattoo style and method of Japan. A style kept alive today by the Yakuza, as well as anyone brave enough to be tattooed in the precarious culture of modern Japan.
Until the Samurai picked up tattooing around the year 780 AD, tattoos were merely used to mark criminals. Their usefulness outweighed their artistic attraction. They had previously had ceremonial use, which would come into play again with the samurai. At least to some extent. For the samurai the tattoos were about artistry, showing off their wealth. They were at the time akin to western knights, they held land, commanded respect and much more.
Some say that the tattoo were also used to identify bodies after a samurai fell in battle. So that family could get their hands on the body and perform the right rites after death. But it is interesting to think about. That a respected warrior class, with high rank in society, adorned their bodies heavily, with the irezumi body-suits. A practice which the Yakuza picked up, after some years, when the samurai were disbanded at the start of the Meiji era.
Irezumi, it has been through quite the journey in its long history. But the samurai adopting and saving tattooing in Japan, really developed it. It became the renowned beautiful art form we see today. Hopefully it will continue to be kept alive. It is as much a part of Japan’s history as the samurai themselves were.