Updated: Jan 6
Well well well. Guess who’s back back back again! It has been quite a week for me over here at the Speakeasy Tattoo Los Angeles. Started tattooing my first clients over the week which makes everything all the more real. Honestly there’s not much that could make it more real (aside from maybe actually getting paid ha ha). So the roller coaster has hit its zenith and now we’ll see what happens next.
So last week we discussed all sorts of manner of ghosts and demons theories and supernatural motives in traditional Japanese tattooing. As promised this week we are going to venture a little bit into the animal kingdom. Nature is a very common theme within Japanese tattooing. So let’s do it kids.
Quite possibly one of the most common elements of the classic Japanese bodysuit is a Koi fish. Believe it or not coif fish are nothing more than fancy carp. They were selectively bread over years to accentuate vibrant colors and size. So technically while they look distinctively different they are just fancy carp. Carp, and intern the Koi fish, are extremely resilient and adaptable fish. They can survive in many different climates and are easily domesticated and transported to different locations. It is this longevity and hardiness that we get its representation in tattooing typically associated with long life and endurance. Overcoming hardship and adversity. Similarly, they can be seen as a good luck omen or a good luck charm by the wearer.
I think these are probably my favorite when it comes to animal life in Japanese Irezumi. Kitsune is more than a simple fox (though that’s what the word directly translates to). It is both hey Celeste you’ll being as well as a supernatural Yokai. Often showing nine tails. These tales represent enlightenment and an increase in compassion or can even represent evil. As legend would have it as a fox grows in wisdom and reaches the age of 100 it will grow another tail. With every passing 100 years boom, another tail. It maxes out at nine so a nine tailed fox can be incredibly incredibly old and wise. Upon achieving it’s one thousands year a fox can I send to the heavens to join the stars. They can fly they can create lightning from their mouth‘s but quite interestingly they are also shape shifters, a characteristic shared with native American legends of foxes and coyotes. For an incredibly in-depth exploration of Kitsune check out this article by Peony here.
Often pictured holding a gold coin, toed tattoos simply are meant to represent wealth, good luck, prosperity and so on and so forth. What could possibly be wrong with that? Look at these little guys! Who wouldn’t want that?
Typically some of the more elegant and beautiful elements of Japanese tattooing cranes on surprisingly hold deep meaning. Cranes are typically held in quite high esteem in Japan, known as the bird of happiness. Like many other animal motives, the crane represents longevity having the ability to live for thousands of years.
Foo dogs are quite easily recognizable and are a staple of Japanese architecture be at restaurants or temples (although they are awesomely mistakenly seen as liens due to their large mean and snarling squared off face). They guard against evil and stand at the doorway of any building. So as you may guess these are typically symbols of protection.
Hebi are snakes. The meaning behind snake tattoos is quite varied. Aside from just being a striking image, they can be seen as guardians or symbols of rebirth. Think about how a snake renews its skin. Make sense? There you go.
Yet another visually striking image with its bold golden and black coat and menacing face. Tiger tattoos have the ability to influence the wind. They can be seen as a protector From evil or even from disease. Obviously strength and courage are associated with both tiger tattoos and they’re real life counterparts.It is also important to mention that much of Japanese folklore mythology as well as their interpretation of the stars is a carryover from ancient Chinese culture. So there are often shared legends and motifs. Samurai would often get tiger tattoos in order to give them strength on the battlefield as well as protection in the afterlife should they fall in battle.
Saru are Monkeys. Either depicted in their animal form featuring human like clothing or in the form of a mask, these monkeys typically are seen as the go-between for humans and the gods. Unsurprising when one considers how the natural world is considered sacred and monkeys have an almost half-and-half look to them between humans and the natural world, if that makes sense.At the same time, also unsurprisingly, these monkeys are seen as pranksters and tricksters. In any case they make for a fun tattoo.
Like the stork the Hou-oh, or Phoenix, is a beautiful and elegant tattoo. The phoenix holds a symbol of nobility and represents a number of interpretations. Naturally they are associated with fire and rebirth but also with the sun. They can come down from the sky both as a harbinger of peace or an omen of war as it flees to its heavenly home.
And on that note of new beginnings, I feel it is an appropriate time to bring this to a close. Next week I think we should look into the elements. No traditional Japanese bodysuit is complete without the classic wind bars or crashing waves. For now just enjoy your weekend.