Tattoo and Yakuza

Tattooing in Japan is an ancient art, which throughout its history has been used for the most diverse purposes. The most famous Japanese tattoo technique is the tebori, a very painful process where the dermis (second layer of the skin) is marked through perforations made by a bamboo rod with several needles on the tip.


At one point in history, Japanese authorities began to use tattoos as a means of punishing and identifying criminals. The offenders were marked with simple images such as bars and ideograms in visible places on the body and, due to the permanence of the ink on their skin, they never completely got rid of their crimes: a tattooed person had great chances of being permanently excluded from society and, For this reason, many believed that being tattooed was a worse punishment than imprisonment and torture.

Over the years, tattooing developed as art in Japan and in the mid-18th century it reached its peak, ceasing to be related to punishment. Some researchers believe, however, that the use of tattoos as ornaments has emerged as a way for criminals to hide their markings, by overlaying images.

At the same time, the Yakuza, a criminal organization formed by men of Japanese origin whose activities are linked to drug trafficking, prostitution, gambling and extortion by multinationals through blackmail. Its members follow a code of rules based on loyalty and fidelity and have some obligations such as not hiding money from the group, not going to the police and never disobeying a superior's order.

The famous Yakuza tattoos emerged as a way for its members to demonstrate this loyalty to the organization, in addition to certifying their strength and courage: the members usually cover their bodies from shoulders to knees in a process that can take several years and, to top it off, it is extremely painful to be done with the technique tebori. The video below shows several examples of Japanese almost completely tattooed.


The gang tattoos are formed by a wide visual collection. The most common drawings involve elements related to nature, such as flowers, waves, rays and animals (such as tigers and carp), and mythological figures such as the dragon, a sacred character present in several oriental tales and legends.

Tiger tattoo

Due to their association with Yakuza, the Japanese again developed prejudice against tattooing, but that does not prevent them from being seen as great works of art around the world. An interesting and at the same time macabre fact is that some large pieces of fur from dead members of the Yakuza are found in universities for studies, exactly for their artistic value. Unfortunately (and for obvious reasons), illustrative photos could not be found, but probably few would have the stomach to look at them.


TAKIGUTI, Karina. The image of the mafia: an analysis of Yakuza's tattoos.

WALLS, Cezinando. The influence and significance of tattoos on prisoners inside prisons

SILVA, Oberdan Ferreira Costa da. Organized crime: procedural aspects and evidence. 2014. 58 f. Monograph (Bachelor of Law) - University of Brasília, Brasília, 2014.

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