Tattoo in Japanese – What does Japan think about tattoos?

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Do you want to get a tattoo in Japanese but don't know how to choose the character? Ever wonder what Japanese people think about tattoos? How do you spell tattoo in Japanese? What are the most used ideograms in tattoos?

Did Yakuza result in prejudice against tattoos in Japan? How does Japan view tattoos? In this article, we will answer these and other questions, in addition to seeing several curiosities involving tattoos.

Perhaps you have heard that in Japan tattoos are viewed with bad eyes. Really, because of the Yakuza, Japanese Mafia, there is still some fear when it comes to tattoos.

Even some gyms, water parks, onsens and public pools do not allow access for people with tattoos. Is all this because of Yakuza? Remembering that this article is quite extensive and varied, we recommend using the summary below:

How do you spell tattoo in Japanese?

Japanese tattoo is written irezumi [入れ墨] which literally means to insert ink. It can also be pronounced and written as a tattoo [タトゥー] derived from English and other Western languages. Tattoos in Japan is an art so old that it dates back even before Christ in Jomon period.

Another alternative word used to refer to tattoos rarely is I left [箚青]. Traditional Japanese tattoos can be called gei [黥], shisei [刺青] or bunshin [文身].

There are some Japanese words related to tattoos that I would like to share:

  • Kurikaramonmon [倶利迦羅紋紋] - Tattoo of a dragon wrapped in flame and swallowing the tip of a vertical sword;
  • Horu [彫る] - Sculpt; getting a tattoo;
  • Irebokuro [入れぼくろ] - Fake tattoo; Make up;
  • Irezumishi [刺青師] - Tattoo artist;
  • Peepaatatoo [ペーパータトゥー] - Fake tattoo; Tattoo sticker;
  • Geimen [黥面] - Facial tattoo;
  • Asaku [黥く] - Tattoo a criminal around the eye;
Tattoos in Japanese - what does Japan think about tattoos?

The history of tattoos in Japan

In the past, the Japanese used tattoos for spiritual expression or body decoration where they even gained a meaning of status. In the Edo Period (1603-1868), they began to be used as punishment for prisoners to mark them for the crimes they committed and thus help with identification and serve as a reminder for criminals.

There is even an ancient art of tattooing called tebori, which used a very painful process by piercing the dermis (second layer of the skin) with bamboo stems and several needles at the tip. Some received a tattoo on their face called mesaku [黥]. China also used similar punishments called bokukei [墨刑].

This punishment caused marks or ideograms in visible places on the body to serve as a warning to the population, resulting in a permanent exclusion from society. For some prisoners, being tattooed was the worst punishment in existence, far worse than prison or torture.

Perhaps this is one of the main reasons why tattoos in Japan are viewed with bad eyes. To this day, although no one else is tattooed for committing crimes, some still view tattooed people as dangerous. Probably because of the ban in the Meiji era.

In the Meiji Period, tattoos were officially banned (1872 to 1948)

Tattoos in Japanese - what does Japan think about tattoos?

Did Yakuza spread fear of tattooing in Japan?

In the middle of the 18th century, Japan stopped associating tattoos with crimes, but the community still saw the tattooed as criminals. For this reason, tattooing as an ornament became popular among the yakuza, so that criminals hide their markings with more beautiful images that are usually things of nature, dragons, flowers, rays, waves and animals.

Except that Japanese criminals did not use tattoos only to cover the old markings, Yakuza adopted the famous tattoos to show the loyalty and organization of its members, as well as strength and courage. Due to Yakuza the Japanese again developed prejudice in relation to the tattoo that lasts until today. Yet there are many Japanese people who view these tattoos, especially from Japanese gangs, as a beautiful work of art.

Yakuza is an organization less and less visible in the Japanese population, yet it is linked to prostitution, drugs, gambling and extortion. So much so that nowadays some members of Yakuza wear a suit to avoid showing their tattoos in public. The question still remains: What do yakuza tattoos have to do with popular tattoos?

Tattoos in Japanese - what does Japan think about tattoos?

Does Japan not accept any type of tattoo?

When looking at yakuza tattoos in Japan, it is obvious to identify criminals from people who have simple tattoos on some part of the body. Still, in order to follow rules imposed by certain locations, many end up experiencing problems or embarrassment just by having a small tattoo on their arm or body.

Not even the Japanese see the tattoos of yakuza members as horrible or scary, they can understand the magnitude and the art expressed in these tattoos.

The ban on tattoos in the Meiji era was to avoid embarrassment with Westerners, but the effect was the opposite and several Easterners fell in love with Japanese tattoos.

Japan is gradually losing this stigma related to tattoos. There are already more than 3000 legal studios against less than 300 in the 1990s. Today, the Japanese are quite open to this type of art.

Japan is made up of the vast majority of older, traditional people, where they may not like tattoos. Even in Brazil there is this stigma, many elderly people have the same thought.

Will I suffer prejudice because of tattooing in Japan?

If you are concerned about whether or not you suffer from prejudice in Japan because of a tattoo, rest assured. Most of these locations are probably run by some traditional seniors. There are few so there is no reason to worry.

The Japanese care little for the lives of others, some walk in overalls on the street, others wear extravagant clothes, dye their hair or skin. Are you really going to worry about having a small tattoo?

Of course, unfortunately there are going to be places that you can’t access because of tattoos, just as there are some places exclusively for Japanese people. There’s no problem with that, these places are stuck in time, ignore them.

Tattoos in Japanese - what does Japan think about tattoos?

The dangers of getting a tattoo in Japanese

Leaving a little of the idea of how Japan views tattoos, let’s talk a little now about the famous tattoos of Japanese and Chinese characters that people usually get. Usually taking a beautiful and descriptive word and adjective.

Before you want to get a tattoo in Japanese, you need to think about the dangers. Permanently etching language into your skin that you can't read is a dangerous proposition. Most of these tattoos leave the Japanese scratching their heads.

Most Japanese kanji have several meanings (up to more than 20). Some meanings are quite obscure. If you choose a kanji tattoo because of its obscure meaning - it can be an embarrassing mistake.

You can even choose the right ideogram, but its meaning may not be what people will think. For example, the ideogram of peace it can be [安], but many people will think that it is written cheap [安い].

Even famous people make mistakes, the famous Britney Spears got a tattoo with an ideogram [変] in the idea of meaning something mysterious, but people can only see something as strange and unusual. The ideogram has a negative connotation, even used to write words like hentai [変態].

Some believe that putting together the ideograms to form the intended word can avoid these problems, but it does not always happen ... Some words can also be confusing if they are not applied in a context.

For example, someone tattoos [西原] thinking it is written Wild West. He's not wrong, but the Japanese will read a common Nishihara surname. It's like tattooing Henrique or Oliveira on the Arm. It's not just names, Japanese words can also have several meanings.

Tattoos in Japanese - what does Japan think about tattoos?

Care when getting a Japanese tattoo

It's not just getting to any tattoo artist, showing a photo and asking him to get the tattoo. Japanese ideograms have order in the writing of strokes, a simple mistake can totally change the meaning of the word, or make it look just like a scribble.

Some Japanese study decades to master the shodo writing art. Do you really think that an amateur tattoo artist, even knowing the art of drawing, will be able to make a tattoo with Japanese characters without any risk?

Also be careful with the fonts chosen on the internet, some do not make sense, others may come out different if passed from the computer to a skin. Kanji tattoos sometimes have errors that make them completely unreadable, so be careful.

It is also worth remembering that many Japanese or Chinese ideograms are similar. Changing the order of a stroke can make you tattoo a different word on your skin. Also beware of the simplified Chinese fonts, Japanese and Chinese are different things.

Be careful not to tattoo the mirror image or upside down, be aware of the correct way to position the ideogram on your skin. Make it clear to the tattoo artist the way you want the tattoo to look to avoid problems and embarrassment.

If you want a kanji tattoo, it is essential to get advice from a trusted native Japanese speaker. Show him the design and make sure the ideograms look professional. Ask what the words mean in different contexts.

Tattoos in Japanese - what does Japan think about tattoos?
Examples of similar ideograms

50 popular ideograms for your tattoo

Many want to get a tattoo in Japanese or Chinese, but have no idea which ideogram to use or what their meaning is. For this, we have made a list of the main ideograms used in tattoos for you to be inspired.

  • Alma (Tamashii)
  • Ambition (Yabou)
  • Friendship (Yuujou)
  • Love (Ai)
  • Rainbow (Niji)
  • Beauty (Bi)
  • Bravery (Yuukan)
  • Buddhism (Bukkyou)
  • Courage (Yuuki)
  • Belief (Shinnen)
  • Wish (Yokubou)
  • God (Kami)
  • Dragon (Ryuu)
  • Hope (Kibou)
  • Spirit (Seishin)
  • Star (Hoshi)
  • Eternity (Eien)
  • Happiness (Koufuku)
  • Honor (Meiyo)
  • Ideal (laughed)
  • Enlightenment (Satori)
  • Illusion (Gensou)
  • Justice (Seigi)
  • Loyalty (Chuujitsu)
  • Caption (Densetsu)
  • Freedom (Jiyuu)
  • Moon (Tsuki)
  • Meditation (Mokusou)
  • Nature (Shizen)
  • The Samurai Code (Bushidou)
  • Ocean (Umi)
  • Pride (Hokori)
  • Passion (Jounetsu)
  • Peace (Heiwa)
  • Perfect (Kanzen)
  • Power (Chikara)
  • Promise (Yakusoku)
  • Respect (Sonkei)
  • Wisdom (Chie)
  • Samurai
  • Secret (Himitsu)
  • Shogun
  • Sky (Sora)
  • Dream (yume)
  • Success (Seikou)
  • Sun (Taiyou)
  • Universe (Uchuu)
  • Truth (Shinjitsu)
  • Victoria (Shouri)
  • Zen
Tattoos in Japanese - what does Japan think about tattoos?
Yakuza tattoo

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12 thoughts on “Tatto em Japonês – O que o Japão pensa sobre tatuagens?”

  1. Uma pergunta, o ideograma de paz tem apenas uma palavra (n sei se posso dizer assim) diferente do ideograma barato. Como q eles conseguem pensar na palavra errada ? Mesma coisa com o ideograma de hentai

  2. Uma pergunta, o ideograma de paz tem apenas uma palavra (n sei se posso dizer assim) diferente do ideograma barato. Como q eles conseguem pensar na palavra errada ? Mesma coisa com o ideograma de hentai

  3. Acho q se fosse para termos figuras estampadas na pele, Deus teria nos criado assim. Não admiro tatuagens nem um pouco, acho q pessoas que usam ñ têm muito bom senso e elas são sim associadas a criminosos, pois nas cadeias aqui no BR uns bandidos obrigam outros a se tatuarem, há códigos conforme os crimes cometidos – inclusive homicidas c/ figuras representando “Jesus Cristo”. E no JP muitas empresas solicitam aos empregados tatuados que usem mangas compridas, p/ q as tatuagens ñ apareçam e os colegas de trabalho fiquem assustados. É tolice tentar encarar a realidade c/ óculos de lentes cor-de-rosa…

    • Levítico 19:28 “Não façam cortes no corpo por causa dos mortos nem tatuagens em vocês mesmos” mas isso era principalmente pq as outras nações usavam exatamente pra adoração de deuses.

  4. Acho q se fosse para termos figuras estampadas na pele, Deus teria nos criado assim. Não admiro tatuagens nem um pouco, acho q pessoas que usam ñ têm muito bom senso e elas são sim associadas a criminosos, pois nas cadeias aqui no BR uns bandidos obrigam outros a se tatuarem, há códigos conforme os crimes cometidos – inclusive homicidas c/ figuras representando “Jesus Cristo”. E no JP muitas empresas solicitam aos empregados tatuados que usem mangas compridas, p/ q as tatuagens ñ apareçam e os colegas de trabalho fiquem assustados. É tolice tentar encarar a realidade c/ óculos de lentes cor-de-rosa…

    • Levítico 19:28 “Não façam cortes no corpo por causa dos mortos nem tatuagens em vocês mesmos” mas isso era principalmente pq as outras nações usavam exatamente pra adoração de deuses.