Round and round we go, when it stops nobody knows! Well here we are again. And boy what a week it has been! Tattoos getting done, flowers being watered and coffee getting poured down our throat‘s. It's Chips Ahoy! season here at Speakeasy Tattoo. Summer is creeping down on us. The weather is, chilly, then hot hot hot and it’s only going to get hotter, but then its also rainy and cloudy again. Welcome to Los Angeles.
So, with weather and the elements in mind I’m not going to beat around the cherry blossom too long, as I promised last week this week we will be talking about natural elements in Japanese tattooing.
One of the most striking and distinguishing factors of the classic Japanese bodysuit are bold dark wind bars or crashing black waves. More than just filler, these striking elements as you may have guessed carry meaning.
Nearly all traditional Japanese bodysuits incorporate water or waves in some manner. Be them flowing and smooth or tumultuous crashing whitecaps. This could mean any number of things and as one may have guessed the temperament of the water can be indicative of what it actually means. Tumultuous waves represent the tumultuous-ness of life. Flowing water can represent the abs and flows of life itself. Water is the source of all life after all and therefore is the source of all strength. As you may have caught on at this point there is a theme of counterbalance and contradiction in Japanese tattooing. Yin and yang, so to speak. This is the same with water. Wile water is the source of all life, it can also easily and readily be the source of death and is something to be feared. It is this dichotomy that brings more poignancy to a simple background of a tattoo.
Similar, and sometimes almost indistinguishable to the point of blending together, to that of water and waves wind bars take on the appearance of bold lines arcing across a persons body suit. Also like water and waves this can be indicative of a tumultuous stormy time. Frequently in conjunction with wind bars are billowy clouds with striking lightning (often in conjunction with brothers Fujin and Raijin, discussed in an earlier post) arcing across the smooth lines.
Momiji / Maple leaves
Naturally, with wind comes fall and leaves. Very typically in conjunction with both water, waves and wind, maple leaves are a common feature of Japanese tattooing. Believe it or not a Mapleleaf is almost the same two Japanese culture as a red rose is to western culture, often times being a representation of love or as a gift to a loved one. Most commonly depicted a reddish brown (as if in fall) they represent the passing of time.
No other flower is held in higher esteem in Japanese culture than that of the peony. Even going so far as to be known as the king of flowers. As mentioned before much of Japanese tattooing culture comes from the yakuza which in turn comes from the samurai. So it is natural that much of the iconography represents the fleeting this of life. Such as that of the peony. Peonies represent struggle and risk-taking and remind one to live your life to the fullest for tomorrow may not come.
While the peony may be the king of flowers, The lotus is considered more connected to spiritual power. Because a lotus blooms underwater creeping from the dark dank depths below, a Lotus is seen to represent emergence and enlightenment. Further, it’s represents struggle and overcoming adversity. A lotus flower must struggle to emerge from the depths and therefore this represents one’s true emergence. Think butterfly.
You may start to recognize a theme here. And that is the impermanence of life and it’s fleeting nature. Cherry blossoms are no different. Life is fast and all things perish in the end no matter their beauty. So, as with the theme of many Japanese tattoos, cherry blossoms remind us to enjoy life while we can. They represent all of the beautiful things in life but also serve to remind us of lost love ones and life‘s fragility. Interestingly it also represents strength among the samurai class and therefore also they Yakuza. Because the cherry tree itself is so resilient and hearty but gives a beautiful delicate bloom the metaphor is almost too obvious to explain. It should also be noted that the cherry blossom is the official flower of the Japanese nation.
Often associated with nobility or the emperor himself, the Japanese interpretation of the chrysanthemum is that of greatness and the power of man. Often called the golden flower it is seen as a representation of the sun and therefore can be associated with life itself.
Something that is obviously mostly unique to Japan and Japanese tattooing, and most certainly NOT European, is bamboo. One thing that every school child learns as early as elementary school is that bamboo grows damn fast. There are even horrific methods of torture in which someone is tied down to the ground above a bamboo plant which is allowed to grow through the unfortunate condemned person. Yes, that happened. It is this rapid growth that bamboo gets its meaning in Japanese tattooing. Typically it represents growth and development as well as new beginnings. Also along with other things bamboo can be seen as a representation of good luck ( Ever hear of a money plant?) because of bamboo's versatile and rugged nature, it can also represent courage and consistency. Bamboo is one of the few plants that can withstand a storm as tumultuous as a hurricane or an event such as a tsunami. So naturally there is great meaning to be derived from this.
Had enough? I think that should do it for now. As always, if any of this is interesting or appealing to you I encourage you to do further research. Having said that, I am super amped to work with anyone looking to get some thing that they derive meaning from. Be at in the traditional Irezumi sense or your own personal meaning. For now try to stay cool this week. I know I will, I don’t have to try.
Eyyyyyyy -Sweeve out