Japanese tattoos

Tattoo styles 7 min read Last updated on August 9, 2020

The Japanese tattoo represents centuries-old oriental traditions and techniques. These tattoos are difficult to confuse with other styles because of the originality of the object depicted and the color palette.

The main characteristics Japanese style tattoos

  • Colors usually include shades of red, gold, black, and purple
  • Large details are preferred because small ones are considered to distract from the essence
  • Clear contours
  • The drawings haven't dynamics, but the central objects are usually depicted in motion, e.g., a flying dragon, a floating Koi fish, a dancing geisha
  • Symbolism is the main feature of this style. Each image is endowed with a deep meaning, and often - even the plot.

Common themes

Take note! The popular "sleeve" tattoos today originated from Japanese tattoos. Samurais used to tattoo their entire arm as they wore sleeveless kimonos. These inked sleeves represented power, courage and bravery of the owner of such a powerful image.


The Japanese tattoo is one of the oldest types of body paintings.

The appearance of tattoos in Japan dates back to the Zemon period (10,000 BC-300 BC).

A 3rd century Chinese manuscript which first mentions the existence of Japan also alluded to the drawings that the Japanese made on their faces and other body parts, most likely for a ritual.

A Japanese book which dates back to 712 AD contains the first mention of tattoos and says that there are two types: one is as a sign of high social status while the other signifies involvement in crime.

The history of the development of Japanese tattoos is linked to criminal activity. In 1720, Japan began to use tattooing as a punishment, replacing amputation of body parts like the nose and ears. For extortion, forgery, and fraud, criminals were tattooed on the arm or forehead, which symbolized the mark of the criminal. There was a special tattoo reserved for traitors—an image of the Japanese character which stands for "dog". The custom existed for 150 years.

During the dictatorship (17th century), tattoos were banned in Japan. And though people still had them done in places hidden by their clothes, the popularity of these body drawings subsequently decreased. It was during this period that tattoos began to be popularly applied to parts of the body generally unseen such as the chest and legs.