40 Japanese Tattoos - Meanings, Photos and Designs


Japanese tattoos amaze and fascinate with their deep meaning, color and volume. The article will reveal the features of such paintings, express our opinion on which tattoos are more suitable for women and men. You will have the opportunity to admire and pick up the original images by viewing our photo and sketch gallery.


Japanese tattoos changed their meaning and plot, because in every era new rulers dictated their terms. While choosing the body picture in Japanese style, it’s better to consider that its meaning can change in the future.


Этапы развития японских татуировок

  • The Ainu inked special mascot-pictures on the body to protect themselves from the attacks of fierce beasts while hunting.
  • Kofun Period (the 3rd century). Tattoos were inked on the face and body to focus on their noble birth. In the process of archaeological excavations, heads of figurines (haniwa) with remains of dyes on the foreheads and cheeks were found.
  • Period of the early Middle Ages (the 6th century). The inhabitants of Japan were divided into classes. They “marked” people who violated the law, as well as representatives of various professions with the help of tattoos. The line or the cross was inked on the butchers’ forearms, and the hieroglyph “dog” was inked on the traitor’s forehead. Criminals inked various elements to the stigma, in order to live further. Perhaps, it was the time, when the style of Japanese tattoo, irezumi, was born. The majority believes that today it is better not to ink the ring on the wrists because their number tells how many crimes the owner has committed.
  • The occurrence of samurai – warriors from various aristocratic classes who served the feudal lord (from the 7th century). They tattooed protective symbols and various pictures to show their courage and determination in battle. Japanese tattoo Samurai is considered the most expensive and laborious picture. It has a diverse color spectrum and numerous elements. Each of them has its own meaning and purpose. In general, it means the fortitude and the invincible will.
  • The calm period of Heian (794). Tattoos acquired a completely different direction — they became a symbol of love and devotion, and at the same time, the pictures became religious. There were signs of sincere feelings, Buddha and the goddess of mercy Canon on the bodies of the Japanese. Perhaps, in this period of time, a romantic style of Japanese tattoos, gaman, occurred. It helped demonstrate high human qualities, courage and determination. Later, women began to ink such tattoos as well.
  • The Edo Age (1603). Dictators took the power, set rules of behavior, according to the social class. Tattoos were forbidden, but the Japanese began to tattoo the pictures exclusively up to the clothes cutout in order to protest. There was a strip of the body from the chest to the abdomen, so that the robe could be easily opened without showing a tattoo. It was forbidden to strip the torso, so the firemen started to ink their bodies as well, because putting out the fire in simple clothes was dangerous.

Rescuers inked the protective signs and symbols of water patrons. They were supported by fishermen and traders, depicting marine inhabitants on the body.

Perhaps, the Japanese tattoo was revived with the help of geishas, as the girls had a rather high status in the society. They put the patterns, imitating a festive kimono, on the body. Probably, another kind of Japanese tattoos for girls, kakusi-boro (an invisible picture), occurred in this period. The invisible picture is a “decorative” cut. Rice powder is rubbed into it. When the wounds are healed, the tattoos become almost invisible, but as soon as the blood flows to the capillaries (after a hot bath, alcohol or intimacy), the pattern becomes distinct.



  • Symbolism. Each element has a profound significance. Its meaning depends on the location and additional elements, so each image is carefully thought through by the artist.
  • Large size of pictures. The artist inks them in several stages, which can last for several years.
  • Visible parts of the body, such as: hands, feet, a strip for the “opened robe” and neck, are not inked.
  • Brightness and colorfulness of the palette, playing with contrast.
  • The asymmetry of the pictures. The meaning of Japanese tattoo depends on its location on the body.
  • Neck. A person with a tattoo on the neck knows a secret or shows his own special qualities inherent only to him.
  • Arm. A person with a tattoo on the arm knows what he wants from himself and others, he is determined, has a strong nature and spirit.
  • A tattoo on the chest is a challenge to others.
  • A tattoo on the back is an internal protection and dominance. A person who has such a tattoo seeks to show his capabilities and potential.
  • A tattoo on the leg means movement and the desire to achieve the set goals. It is sometimes interpreted as a search for support.
  • The forearm is chosen by courageous and strong men.


Japanese hieroglyphs. According to the legend, the Emperor Jimmu conquered the Queen Senoyatatara with the pictures on his body and tattooed the name of his beloved, adding the hieroglyph “life”. Later, many couples began to follow his example, to perpetuate their feelings, to prove their devotion and love for the rest of their lives. It is necessary to put the signs carefully because they mean one symbol separately, but they can have a completely different meaning being used in the sentence.

Tattoos of yakuza or irezumi have a special meaning. Mostly they are inked with red and black pigments. The plot is dominated by religious motives, gambling, everyday situations and figures in motion. It is believed that huge Japanese tattoos for men were brought into vogue by the criminal yakuza clan. They signify power and courage. These are zigzagging serpents and dragons, realistic fish scales.

Women and men often have Japanese dragon tattoos, which mean strength, loyalty, and nobility. The fairy-tale character became a protector from the fire for firemen. It was a symbol of power for emperors. It is often tattooed in Western style: without shading, the outlines are filled with a homogeneous color. The dragon is often portrayed with the body of a snake, horns or ears of a bull. In this case, its symbolism becomes wider. If a monster wraps a sword and looks forward with red eyes, the tattoo means power and strength. If the creature is in the clouds, it means determination for the sake of freedom.

Japanese carp tattoo is popular. It is inked in orange and red, mostly along with the waves. It is characterized by ornamentality and dynamics, means courage, cold-bloodedness in front of an inevitable fate. Businessmen, travelers and sportsmen ink this picture in a golden hue as a sign of luck and financial well-being.

The picture of the redskin child Kintoro has a special meaning. It symbolizes courage and strength. And if he has a blue belt, it means thinking. He is often depicted naked and struggling with carp.

Flower motifs are another feature of Japanese tattoos. Men use them as an additional element to their body composition. A peony with a lion is a casual composition. It means a balance of power and beauty. Samurai tattooed branches of sakura with chrysanthemum on their bodies to show fearlessness and willingness to die in battle to the enemy. For girls, sakura in bloom is the symbol of beauty and evanescence. In some cases, it is the sign of sadness. Beautiful ladies prefer tattoo of a tiger (perseverance and power), a phoenix (rebirth and celebration), a dragon with a snake body, a Koi carp. Girls often have tattoos of Japanese masks, especially Chania. According to legend, one monarch rejected the Japanese girl, but the beauty decided to take revenge and turned into a demon. Such a mask means insidiousness of an offended woman.

Girls often choose the image of demons, monsters and werewolves of small sizes to fit the shoulder blade, forearm and thigh. Such pictures protect from evil and deceit, symbolize faith in the spiritual world and act as punishment for injustice.

Men tattoo a demon mask. They are with weapons similar to a metal spear with spikes. It means strength and vitality. Often there are images of soldiers, landscapes, the rising sun, battles of samurai with demons, mythical creatures.

Despite the plot, Japanese tattoos are always aesthetic and attractive.

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