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Yakuza Tattoos

The Yakuza and their Tattoos

The yakuza. You know them as a gang that mostly controls the red light district. They own the businesses there or even the territories. There are also always stories about them very into their honour and loyalty. But of course, still does all the illegal stuff in the background.

Now their history began in the early 17th century in Japan. They comprised of men who sold stolen or illegal goods or ran gambling dens. These men called their group the Ninkyō dantai which means the chivalrous organization.

So, seeing how they handle illegal businesses, it is common for these men to be in and out of prison. At the time, authorities would brand these men that had been to prison with tattoos to mark them as criminals.

This was the start of tattoos by the early Yakuza members. They then added more new tattoos in addition to their prison tattoos. This later became a custom and tradition of the group. Where new tattoos means status within the organization and is a way to identify themselves to other yakuza members with.

A bit like a permanent badge of honour engraved in the skin for their achievements. The tattoos also gave a sense of comradery between them because tattoo art wasn’t practiced by everyone. It was entirely associated with criminals.

In this age

Now, there is still a connection between criminals and tattoos in Japan. Thus, this is why the yakuza members wear their tattoos traditionally on parts of the body covered by clothing. Their tattoos would often cover the entire body from ankles to wrists and to right under the collar.

This placement of body art means the hands, feet and face can be shown in public without revealing the presence of the body art beneath the clothing. Most full body art worn by the yakuza has a strip of bare skin through the centre of the chest. This is so the yakuza member can unbutton their shirt without the tattoos being seen.

Tradition and their toughness made gang members to have their tattoo designs by using a painful process called Irezumi. As the process of irezumi is painful, it is considered proof of the gang member’s courage and determination for their gang. Also, being able to afford an entire body suit of irezumi tattoos (which by the way called “horimono”) means that the yakuza member is successful in his business pursuit. As a horimono is not cheap at all, could go more than thousands of dollars per part.