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Photograph Descriptions.

Tattoos from Around the World

The above four photos are of tattoos by Horiyoshi III, the modern denizen of the Japanese tattoo and the crafts representative to the outside world. Notice how the fine lines, fancy detail, bright colors and overall flash contrasts to the bold, simple, almost conservative style of orthodox horimono.
The above right photo is an example of a full body suit in which the entire body- sometimes even the genitals and head- is completely covered in tattoo. The photo on the bottom left shows three quarter sleeves in which tattoo covers the arms to about the mid-point of the forearms. This is usually done to better ensure that the wearer’s tattoos will not be unintentionally shown. The unveiling of horimono to other people is a moment of surprise and awe that is almost cherished by the wearer; and it is also a critical device used in Japanese cinema to immediately foreshadow that an exciting scene will ensue- when a gangster strips off his kimono and reveals his tattoo one knows that he means business. The photo on the bottom right is of the tattoo studio of Horiyoshi III. Although his work takes horimono to the next level of its evolution, he does so with the traditional values and practice long inherent to his art. Notice the simplistic qualities of the room, the almost relaxed posture of both the man being tattooed and the artist, the bamboo floor and the overall feel of tradition emanating from the whole scene.
Photos taken from: http://www.ne.jp/asahi/tattoo/horiyoshi3/horiyoshi3-art.html

    The above image is of a painting from a Japanese collection. Take note of the bold, firm lines in the tattoo and the way that the warrior moves within the natural landscape of the wearer’s back, giving the impression that the tattooed imaged and the tattooed man are one and the same. This non-duality and display of unity between the tattoo and the one wearing it, both totemically and aesthetically, is the ideal behind horimono iconography.  

Painting taken from: http://www.wul.waseda.ac.jp/TENJI/virtual/farsari/index2.html

    The above photos are of neo-istic Japanese tattoos. This particular variety of tattooing utilizes traditional horimono iconography within a western medium. They are usually created within a parlor-like public studio in which one can walk in, order a tattoo, and come out with it etched indelibly into their skin. This manner of immediate gratification is an approach that is completely foreign to traditional horimono and can be used as a microcosm to represent the western influence upon Japanese society as a whole. These tattoos are known formally as wan-pointo, single point, due to their disconnectedness from other tattoos and the body itself, but many horimono masters refer to them, ruefully, as single point omissions. This type of tattooing is viewed as being almost narcissistic in nature; the tattoos are meant to stand alone within their own sub-divided sector of skin/ canvass. Qualities are represented by these tattoos which, when personified, are completely at odds with the Japanese mindset of social homogeneity and which blatantly display western ideas of separate, individualistic identities within the larger social sphere.              
Photos found at: http://www.d2.dion.ne.jp/~horiasa/sakuhin.htm

The photo to the left shows the blank area that strikes down through the middle of the frontal torso area of a body suit know as a “river.” It is call as such for the simple reason that it looks like a river cutting between a fully tattooed plain. This design mainly came about so that the wearer could keep his tattoos inconspicuously hidden beneath a kimono (which opens robe like in the front). It has remained in style mostly for reasons of posterity and nostalgia; keeping to tradition because it is tradition. But one could also argue that the river continues to serves its intended utilitarian function to conceal tattoos beneath western style button-up business suits and shirts. Another, perhaps happenstancial, effect of the “river” is to provide contrast between skin that is tattooed and that which is not; to give a view of a constant within the plain of the dynamic; to show the balance that is inherent within duality- that which is defined can only be so through that which it is not.          

Photo taken from: http://www.horiiro.com/wabori.htm

    The above back-pieces take as their theme images from Buddhist iconography. Within the fray of a traditional horimono bodysuit there are usually at least a few Buddhist related images. Even if the wearer does not claim to be a practicing Buddhist, the iconographic figures that are tattooed upon him have the dual function of not solely representing Buddhism but, more specifically, the role in which the figures play within the Buddhist pantheon.
An example of this is Fudo, the Guardian of Hell, who is shown in the tattoo at the far right. Donald Richie perhaps puts it best as he describes Fudo as being “...fierce but in a good cause; he lives in a bad neighborhood (hell) but he works hard; he has many social disadvantages but he also has good social value.....Fudo may be ugly but he is truly good at heart”[Richie1980, p49]. This is almost surely the sentiment that many underclass Japanese men feel who wear Fudo proudly on their bodies- “yes, I am of the dregs of society but I care for my squalid situation and attempt to better it.” It is this blending of the wearer of horimono to the iconography that is tattoo upon him, the actual transgression of the image, not only into the skin but, into the entire being of the wearer- the actual becoming of the image- that gives the art its magic. The tattoo is alive.  
The tattoo on the left is of (perhaps) Manjushri Bodhisattva (Japanese Monju), the Bodhisattva of transcendental wisdom. Zen Buddhism associates itself closely with Manjushri, as Jolted Awakening is represented through the Bodhisattva. The wearer perhaps affiliates himself with the Zen life of concentrated meditation and awareness, thus tattooing the image of Manjushri upon his body to show, perhaps only to himself, his dedication to this way of life. Or perhaps the tattoo is meant to be a muse of sorts to motivate him on his path within the old Buddha Dharma. The process of tattooing acts as a beacon which allows the wearer to show others, and especially themselves, what it is that they think they are. Religious images are held in the deepest places of those who imbued them with life and allow them to be real- felt- and, hence, they make for a really pure and passionate tattoo.           

Images taken from: http://www.d2.dion.ne.jp/~horiasa/sakuhin.htm

The above images are from: http://www.horitaku1.com/
The above tattoos were created by the Japanese horimono master, Horitaku. The photo on the upper left shows a tattoo in the mid-point of its creation. Notice how, on the left leg, the solid black outline is completed prior to the shading and coloring that is shown by the tattoo on the right leg.
Also take note of how the tattoos on the girl in the photo on the bottom right seem to be almost incongruously put together and how it is obvious that each element of the tattoo was done at separate times and without a pre-commencement plan of how it all would be put together. It is because of this rigidness that Horimono masters tend to scorn these conglomerations of single point tattoos. The incongruities between Japanese full body tattoos and western “point” tattoos is another example in which tattooing can be used to represent differences in cross-cultural perspective. For example, the viewing of all life as a smooth flowing oneness is an outlook that is deeply seeded within the East Asian psyche; therefore Japanese tattooing consists of tattooing the whole body with a single piece in a completely contiguous manner. Whereas the western perspective tends to view the entire scape of life in divided, segmented portions and the tattooing of the body with disconnected, independently standing tattoos is resultant from this worldview.          

The above tattoos were made by Horitaku and displayed at: http://www.horitaku1.com/
The photos on this page show traditional style back-pieces. It is these tattoos, which are etched into the largest continuously tattoo-able part of the body, that stand for all the other tattoos that the wearer may have. It is also the back-piece that strives to, in a single image, fully represent the person wearing it as well; so the design is often deliberated upon for many years prior to being selected. The horimono master is known and regarded for his ability to create back-pieces and it is this area that the artist signs with his stamp upon its completion.   
The above two tattoos were done by Miyazo and were taken from: http://www.miyazo.com

 The drawings on this page were by the horimono master Horihide. Prior to a tattoo being put into the skin it is necessary for the artist to draw out many rough sketches of the desired piece whilst carrying on a continuous creative dialogue with the client. Only after the artist and the client are satisfied with the sketches will the artist proceed to make a final drawing. This final drawing will include most of the fine details and colors that will be in the tattoo.  
The images on this page were taken from: http://tattoos.com/oguri/kobio04.htm

    The images on the following page are of ukiyo-e woodblock prints. The art of ukiyo-e was the precursor to horimono and the approach and technique of both crafts are very similar. Initially, the first horimono artisans were ukiyo-e woodblock carvers who exchanged their knives and chisels for needles and their blocks of wood for human skin. It is startling that, even after hundreds of years, the incision and preparation techniques of both traditional horimono and ukiyo-e are still almost identical. In fact, the link between the two arts is so solidified that word horimono simply means “carved thing.”
    The Ukiyo-e print on the upper left is one of Kuniyoshi’s famous warrior prints that accompanied the book, “108 Heroes of the Suikoden”. It was this collection of illustrations that gave life to the book which ravaged Edo period Japan with the zeal of revolution. These prints, perhaps, also rescued horimono from the trunks of oblivion by providing a new, fresh iconography with which the townspeople could identify; and therefore tattoo all over their bodies.   

The print on the upper left was by Kuniyoshi, the upper right by Yoshitoshi, and the bottom by Chikanobu. These are just a few examples of an extremely large repertoire of Ukiyo-e prints which span hundreds of years and an amassing variety of subject matter and styles.

The above prints were taken from: http://user.bahnhof.se/~secutor/ukiyo-e/edonoiki.html