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The Tricky History of Tattoos in Japan


Tattoos have been a part of Japanese culture for centuries, with the first tattoos found on Buddhist sculptures dating back to the 6th century. Tattooing has traditionally been associated with Japan's criminal underworld, and was banned in 1872. But as times changed, so did attitudes towards tattoos.

This blog post will explore a brief, tricky, history of tattooing in Japan from ancient Buddhism to modern-day superstars.

Japanese style tattoos are unique and really recognisable, with people often keeping to traditional theme, choosing subject matter such as Koi Carps, Hannya Masks, dragons, and flowers.  Quite often, these are done on a large scale in the form of a bodysuit, often with a strip of negative space down the middle, full back pieces, and arm and leg sleeves. 

They look really wonderful and require a lot of time and effort, and while many people think they're exquisite works of art, there has been a lot of backlash against Japanese tattooing.


japanese tattooing


Tattoos have a lengthy and complicated history in Japan, with the earliest tattoos being given to offenders as a form of punishment. Tattoos were utilized by Samurai to set themselves apart from the lower classes, and they became a sign of courage.

Tattoos regained wide appeal thanks to a highly famous Japanese novel published in 1805 that showed beautiful pictures of tattooed individuals with refined and graceful patterns such as animals, mythological beings, and nature, resulting in less opposition to them.

Despite some reservations, many Japanese citizens now sport tattoos in the same way that individuals from other countries do. There are numerous tattoo parlors in modern Japan that cater especially to Japanese people who want Western-style tattoos on their skin.

tattoo artist

However, this stigma is slowly fading away and more people are embracing tattoo culture in all its glory!

These are just some of the spectacular takes on Japanese style tattooing, and there's many more amazing Oriental styles out there.

If you have a favourite Japanese style tattoo artist, we'd love to hear about it in the comments.

Don't forget, we're a tattoo ink supplier and stock loads of brilliant tattoo ink that's perfect for Japanese style tattoos, such as the Kuro Sumi range, and Harajuku Lining and Shading ink!

Check out some great Japanese inspired tattoos below!

danny taylor back japanese tattoo

Danny Taylor on Instagram. 


japanese tattoo

Som Nakburin on Instagram.


japanese full body tattoo

Hortimo on Instagram. 



For more great tattoo pictures, follow us on Instagram!

Looking to buy some great tattoo products? Shop at Magnum Tattoo Supplies!

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  • Caitlin Moore