Japanese Culture Groom Tattoo

Mind-Blowing Japanese Tattoos From the 1800s

Many modern tats can be traced back to the traditional Japanese art of irezumi.

Walk into any tattoo parlor in the U.S. and you'll see designs that Japanese artists have been making for hundreds of years. Kabuki scenes, koi fish, menacing dragons, bunches of blossoms — these are all part of the rich iconography of irezumi, the traditional Japanese art of tattoo. Below, stunning pictures of irezumi from the 1860s to the 1900s.

Tattooing has existed in Japan for thousands of years, but it flourished during the first part of the 19th century, following the rise of ukiyo-e woodblock printing, with which it <a href="https://www.1843magazine.com/culture/look-closer/the-tattooed-hipsters-of-18thcentury-japan" target="_blank">shared images and patterns</a>, and especially following the publication of a massively popular illustrated edition of &quot;Water Margin,&quot; a novel whose outlaw heroes were pictured — in vivid woodblock prints — wearing bold tattoos that covered their bodies. (Pictured: A seated man circa 1880.) Alinari Archives/Alinari via Getty Images Tattooing has existed in Japan for thousands of years, but it flourished during the first part of the 19th century, following the rise of ukiyo-e woodblock printing, with which it shared images and patterns, and especially following the publication of a massively popular illustrated edition of "Water Margin," a novel whose outlaw heroes were pictured — in vivid woodblock prints — wearing bold tattoos that covered their bodies. (Pictured: A seated man circa 1880.) It’s possible that some woodblock printers moonlighted as tattoo artists, and vice versa. Irezumi artists were known as “horishi,” which translates to carver or engraver. (Pictured: a man displays his tattoo of a warrior battling a snake; photographer and date unknown.) Rosseforp It’s possible that some woodblock printers moonlighted as tattoo artists, and vice versa. Irezumi artists were known as “horishi,” which translates to carver or engraver. (Pictured: a man displays his tattoo of a warrior battling a snake; photographer and date unknown.) In the 1860s, when Emperor Meiji came to power and sought to modernize Japan, irezumi was banned as a relic of a backward era. The ban intensified irezumi’s associations with criminality and the underworld. Those associations have persisted: Even today, as Japanese tattoos enjoy remarkable popularity around the world, <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/japanese-tattoo-artist-goes-to-court-to-challenge-a-national-revulsion-to-body-art/2017/04/24/d3bfbdee-25f2-11e7-928e-3624539060e8_story.html?utm_term=.8e7d3b5b7bff" target="_blank">tattoos are stigmatized in Japan</a>, and tattoo artists are subject to harassment by authorities. Alinari Archives/Alinari via Getty Images In the 1860s, when Emperor Meiji came to power and sought to modernize Japan, irezumi was banned as a relic of a backward era. The ban intensified irezumi’s associations with criminality and the underworld. Those associations have persisted: Even today, as Japanese tattoos enjoy remarkable popularity around the world, tattoos are stigmatized in Japan, and tattoo artists are subject to harassment by authorities. This studio portrait of tattooed Japanese bettoes, or horsegrooms, was taken between 1863 and 1877 by Italian-British photographer Felice Beato. Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images This studio portrait of tattooed Japanese bettoes, or horsegrooms, was taken between 1863 and 1877 by Italian-British photographer Felice Beato. This hand-colored photograph of a tattooed betto, circa 1870, was taken by Kusakabe Kimbei, who worked as a colorist for Felice Beato before setting up his own studio. Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images This hand-colored photograph of a tattooed betto, circa 1870, was taken by Kusakabe Kimbei, who worked as a colorist for Felice Beato before setting up his own studio. Dated 1880, this Felice Beato photo shows a man with a warrior figure on his back. Photo 12/UIG via Getty Images Dated 1880, this Felice Beato photo shows a man with a warrior figure on his back. This photo was taken by Felice Beato, most likely in his Japanese studio, circa 1885. Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images This photo was taken by Felice Beato, most likely in his Japanese studio, circa 1885. This 1902 photo shows a man with an elaborate tattoo of a tentacle on his back. Print Collector/Getty Images This 1902 photo shows a man with an elaborate tattoo of a tentacle on his back. Two young Japanese men show their tattoos circa 1890. Alinari Archives/Alinari via Getty Images Two young Japanese men show their tattoos circa 1890. A postcard image, circa 1905, of a man with a warrior tattoo. Allan Seiden Legacy Archive/Getty Images A postcard image, circa 1905, of a man with a warrior tattoo.