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The turbulent history of Japanese style tattoos | Tattoo Ink Suppliers UK


The traditional Japanese style of art and tattooing has been around for thousands of years, and still remains as one of the most popular and long standing tattoo styles out there today.  It’s also one of my all-time favourite tattoo styles, and at Magnum Tattoo Supplies, a Tattoo Ink Suppliers in the UK, we love all things tattoos, so I wanted to talk about this today!

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 absolutely stunning and take lots of work and dedication, and although many would agree that they’re beautiful works of art, there's been lots of opposition to Japanese tattooing.   

Japanese tattooing has a particularly turbulent history.  Ancient Japanese styles of tattooing (also known as Irezumi) have been around for thousands of years and although tattoos were traditionally sought after for decorative purposes, they were often associated with the Yakuza gang members, and eventually were used as harsh markings of punishment for criminals to ensure they were marked for life.

Thanks to an extremely popular Japanese novel that was released in 1805 that featured beautiful illustrations of tattooed people with refined and elegant designs such as animals, mythical creatures and nature, tattoos gained widespread popularity again which in turn lead to less opposition towards them.  Despite this, tattooing was later banned in the Meiji era as there were still negative connotations surrounding tattoos and it was feared that tattoos would appear uncivilised to Westerners.  Because of this, many underground tattoo parlors opened up, and so the art of tattooing was even more so associated with Yakuza gang members, and tattoos were thought of as dedication and tribute to the outlaw lifestyle.

Although in the present day, tattooing is no longer illegal in Japan, it’s still a taboo subject, and is still associated with criminality, which means certain public places like swimming baths and hot sprints often turn away tattooed customers.

I personally love all types of Japanese tattoos, and I love how in the present day they’re still as popular as ever, especially in the western world.  What I like most is how there are so many different takes on the original style, and this is what I want to have a look at today!


Tattoos by Koji Ichimaru: Koji is one of my favourite tattoo artists and I love how his work is so bold and solid, and he has a really unique style like no other. 



  Tattoos by Elliot Wells: Elliot's Japanese style work is always stunning and really detailed.  His use of colour is amazing and I love how intricate all of his pieces are.  



Tattoos by Wenramen: I love the work of Berlin-based tattooer Wendy Pham (also known as Wenramen). She produces loads of stunning Japanese style tattoos, often featuring animals, and quite often incorporates bowls of ramen into her designs which are really cute! 



Tattoos by Horikitsune: Some traditional Japanese work by renowned tattoo artist Horikitsune.  These pieces are incredible, featuring the classic Japanese style bodysuits.



Tattoos by Horiyoshi III: Japanese master Horiyoshi III creates stunning bodysuits adorned with marvellous traditional Japanese themed art.



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 in the UK 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!

Love Toni...





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  • Antonia McLoughlin