THE HISTORY OF TATTOO IS HARD TO RECOUNT EVENTHOUGH IT’S AN ANCESTRAL PRACTICE WE CAN’T PLACE IT’S ORIGIN.
The traditional tattooing japanese technic got several names, irezumi or horimono. Horimono refers to the whole of tattoos. But irezumi is the term used in general to talk about traditional tattoo that covers large part of the body and even “integral tattoo” typically japanese that covers the whole body like a second skin. Such design are real works of art with very expensive prices. There are masters and disciples forming artistic “schools” like any other form of art. Japanese tattoo incousciously reminds the world of the yakuzas, teh japanese mafia. But the history of japanese tattoo is much more older.
1- HISTORY OF JAPANESE TATTOO.
Japanese tattoo is the fruit of a long evolution in time. It seems that thye pioneet people of japan called ainous already wore facial tattoos (10000 to 300 BC) to show they belonged to a clan. Women also had tattoos with ritual value: once married a tattoo looking like mustache to show their “wife” status. At the IIIrd and VIth century chinese chronicles talk about japanese fishermen with their whole bodies tattooed. For the chnese elite tattoo was a barbarian practice, and the chinese culture became the main influence on the japanese elite. The kojiki written in 712 ad talk a bout two categories of tattoos, one is noble reserved to high class people the second is degrading reserved for the criminals.
The arrival of buddhism and confucius dictrines in japan (VIth) go along with a radical change in the perception of tattoo. Buddhism came from china via korea and brought with him a strong chinese cultural influence and tattoo had a negative connotation. So tattoo began to b e associated with the lower social groups for exemple those who got tattooed as a punishment. The prostitutes were also amongst those groups. The yujo (prostitutes) and the geisha of inferior level adopted this practice called irebokuro, whereas the geishas of high ranks dispised it. During the civil wars of the sengoku jidai (the japanese XVIth century) some samurais got tattooed the symbole of their clan. After the battles it enabled to identify the bodies at a time where armors were stolen and the enemies were beheaded…Some professional “categories” used tattoo as a mark of their guild. The firemen of edo for exemple loved tattoo especially dragons, an aquatic creature that could protect them is their dangerous work. Authorities came to use tattoo as a punishment. As those who had undergone it were parias they gathered..and that’s the base of the creation of the yakuzas. Criminal tattoo consisted in circles around the arm or a kanji on the forehead. The official punishment by tattoo was created in 1720 to replace amputation, and this practice will stay untill the interdiction of tattoo by meiji in 1870. But only the japanese couldn’t get tattooed, the arrival the europeans enabled to tattoo masters to export their art thanx to the stranger sailors in japan. Some authors talk about some masters of the time (horichyo) tattooing aristocrates. In 1948 tattoo is nationaly allowed in japan but it is still negative in the mind of people. In japan spreading the traditional technic is still very hard because of the tabous associated with tattoo. But at the same time western tattoos are wellknown in the country. Thanx to some pioneers like Horiuno a great number of apprentice were formed. Nowadays some tattooists of the generation are beginning to propose new traditional designs.
2- SYMBOLICS AND TECHNICS.
Japanese tattoo contrary to the western tattoo is totally handmade. The y use small needles, ink of coal and colored pigments. The tool of the tattooist is a kind of handle , generally metal in bamboo in the past, at it’s end are the needles. Some tattoos ask several years of work and are very expensive. Further more the traditional method is said to be very painfull. So it implies a strong determination and an important investment in time and money. But nowadays they are few tattooists that are doing this art called tebori (handmade tattoo) that requires special technic and knowledges. Master Horiyoshi IIIrd, an important character in modern irezumi, is one of those that have modernised this art. If the tattoo in itself is still handmade, he has added the use of electrical tattooing machines for the big outlines, and a western shadding style. He is also the owner of the tatoo museum in yokohama. The domain which improved the more is hygien which is now similar to the hospitals one.
The firsts decorative tattoos were done in the back. But with the time designs began to cover the arms, shoulders etc… to end in an “integral tattoo”. The designs are influenced by traditional arts, popular stories, religion. It is said that decorative tattoo (not criminal and not ritual) appears at the horeki area (1751-1764) which means a recent periode. A major influence is the ukiyo-e which renewed japanese tattoo. W e can notice that in the two cases , tattoo and ukiyo-e , are popular arts not reserved to aristocracy. Concerning the yakuzas , the irezumi is traditional sign for them. Some scientists think that about 73 percent of the yakuzas are tattooed nowadays. It’s a symbole showing that one leaves civil society behind him to enter the crime’s one. But the number of gangsters tattooed is going down, as the new generation prefers the western tattoo style, more quick to do, les painfull and aboveall very less expensive. Sometimes they are not tattooed at all. The bad reputation of the irezumi is so strong that some public places (public bath) are forbidden to tattooed persons. The tattoo also concern the prostitution environment. But they are some peoles intersted in japanese tattoo for what it is, without any connotation, like in the west which shows that this practice has well spread and it’s a good sign for it’s future recognition as a true form of art.