What does anime have to do with tattoos?

Good Morning!

This is Marléna here again to deliver you with this week’s edition of Speakeasy Tattoo Los Angeles Times! The past week at the shop has been a whirlwind of spackle, painting walls, and me standing in home depot feeling confused. Somewhere in this time tattoos were also made, as well as new art for our upcoming shop art show! The hourglass is now running low on sand, and I’m so excited to see what the Speakeasy artists have been making outside of the shop! Also, James and I have added galleries where you can find our latest art, check out what James has been working on Here. Lastly, I planted some new plants in the shop garden, and I really hope they live!


Now to transition to this week’s subject, I’ll start by outing myself as one of the many people secretly or not secretly interested in Japanese culture. As someone with tattoos, it has been pointed out to me on several occasions the lack of social acceptability towards tattoos in modern day Japan. I have heard vaguely about the negative association being linked to the Japanese crime syndicate, The Yakuza. Today, tattoos are not generally shown in public in Japan. Guests with visible tattoos are not allowed into certain establishments, primarily nice restaurants and bath houses. Although the former ban on tattoos in Japan was lifted in 1948 following the war, the social stigma still remains. Additionally, there is law currently in place which requires all practicing tattoo artists in Japan to hold a doctor’s license, as in to have gone to medical school. Some Japanese tattooers have been made into examples by the government, and are currently facing charges, or are otherwise unable to practice their craft.

Japanese tattooing dates back as far as 280BCE. There is an ancient Chinese record, called the Gishi Wajinden, which describes men at this time commonly adorning full body tattoos. In the 3rd-6th Japan, it was customary to bury the dead with terra cotta figures, known as Haniwa. Many Haniwa have been uncovered and preserved, these figurines now serve as record of the tattoo aesthetics of the time, as they are painted in their likeness. During this earliest period of Japanese tattoo, the complexity of the tattoo design was often correlated with social status. The bold, often symmetrical facial tattoos have been popularized in contemporary Japanese culture…ahem…anime! Some examples are to be found in the show Naruto, as well as the character San from Princess Mononoke.

In the 1700 and 1800s, tattooing in Japan came to be regarded as a high art form. The aesthetics of tattoos at this time came to be greatly influenced by the wood-block prints that were being prolifically produced. Artists such as Utamaro Kitagawa and Utagawa Kuniyoshi depicted tattooed characters in many of their prints, and the style of the tattoos in these art prints filtered directly back into the tattoos that we being created. In 1872 Emperor Meiji banned tattoos, as he was concerned with westernizing Japan. Following this ban, tattooing was adopted primarily by those already living on the outskirts of society-criminals, gang members, and low ranking geisha. The long standing Yakuza gang holds tattoos as a right of passage. Most Yakuza members adorn full body sleeves as a sign of devotion. Although the ban on tattooing has been lifted for 60+ years, the association with the Yakuza remains.  Now I will leave you with some amazing wood block-prints by the aforementioned artist Utamaro Kitagawa!

Have a great weekend everyone!

-M.M

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