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Irezumi  (入 れ 墨, 入 墨, 紋身, 刺 花, 剳 青, 黥 or 刺青) is a Japanese word referring to the permanent insertion of ink under the skin, usually for decorative purposes. It is a way of tattooing.

The word can be written in different ways. The most common way to write it is with Chinese characters 入 れ 墨 or 入 墨, literally "insert ink".


The fact of tattooing for decorative or spiritual purposes in  Japan  it may have gone back in the period  paleolithic .

At  Yayoi period  (300  to.  C.-300  d.  C.) the tattoo designs were observed and commented on by visitors from  China These designs are believed to have had a spiritual significance as well as a function related to social status.

During the  Kofun period  (250-538  d.  C.), tattoos began to have a negative connotation. Instead of being used for ritual purposes or related to social status, tattoos were made on criminals as punishment for their crimes.

Until the  Edo period (1603 - 1868) the role of tattoos in Japanese society fluctuated. Tattooed marks were still used as punishment for crimes committed, but minor fashions of decorative tattoos (some designs were only completed when the hands of lovers joined) also remained. It was in the  Edo period , however, that the Japanese decorative tattoo began to develop into the advanced art that we know today.

The impetus for the development of the technique was the development of the art of wood printing and the publishing of the popular Chinese novel  Suikoden , a story of rebellious bravery and valor illustrated with woodcuts depicting men in heroic scenes, their bodies decorated by Chinese dragons and other mythological beasts, flowers, fierce tigers, and religious images. The novel was an immediate success, and the demand for tattoos related to its illustrations kept pace.

Woodcut artists began tattooing. They used many of the tools used to print on wood when tattooing meat: chisels, gouges, and most importantly, a unique ink known as  Nara ink  or  Nara black, the famous ink that turns blue-green under the skin.

There is an academic debate about who wore these tattoos. Some scholars point out that it was the lower classes that carried them. Others claim that wealthy merchants, who were forbidden by law to flaunt their wealth, sported expensive tattoos under their clothes. It is known with certainty that the irezumi began to be associated with firefighters, representative figures of courage and the sexual picaresque, who wore tattoos as a form of spiritual protection (and also for their beauty).

Tattoos in modern Japan

In the early  In the Meiji period , the Japanese government, trying to protect its image and make a good impression on the West, marginalized tattoos, and irezumi came to have criminal connotations. However, the fascinated foreigners were going to  Japan  in search of the skills of tattoo artists, and the traditional art continued underground.

The tattoo was legalized by the occupation forces in 1945, but it has maintained its criminal image. For many years, traditional Japanese tattoos were associated with the  Yakuza , the most famous mafia in  Japan , and many businesses in  Japan  (public restrooms, gyms, etc.) are still banned from tattooed clients.

The tattoo and other forms of decorating or modifying the body, as in the western world, are gaining popularity in  Japan Traditional irezumi is still performed by specialized artists, but it is painful and expensive in terms of money and time: a traditional full-body tattoo (covering arms, back, thighs, and chest) can take one to five years of weekly visits to complete it, and its price can exceed 30,000 US dollars.

The bill for a Japanese tattoo

The interested party has to first seek out a traditional tattoo artist. This, in itself, can be a daunting task (although it has been made easier with  Internet ), because these artists often carry out their work in surprisingly secret conditions, and the transmission of knowledge is often based on oral tradition.

A traditional tattoo artist spends years apprenticing to a master. They (they are almost exclusively men) sometimes live in their master's house. They can spend years cleaning the studio, observing, practicing on their own flesh, assisting, mixing inks, and carefully copying designs from the master's book, before clients are allowed to tattoo. You must master all the complex and unique shadow style skills.

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