What is Irezumi?
Irezumi is a form of tattooing but is performed using a “brush” made from either steel or bamboo with about 2 dozen needles at the end. It’s not like the modern high speed tattoo machines as this method of delivering tattoo ink to the skin is slow. Thus it is more painful.
The tattoo artist would dip the needle tips of the brush and would repetitively pokes the skin to create the design. Because of the slow process of ink poking, it could take decades to complete a full body suit of tattoos.
Also, Irezumi artists have a reputation themselves. They are said to be leading mysterious lives and only prefer to gain new clients through word-of-mouth rather than advertising their services out in the open. It also takes a long time for the artists to begin their careers as they start with being an apprentice that can only clean the work space, prepare tools and watch the main Irezumi artist tattooing clients. They can also only begin practicing their tattoo art on themselves most of the time or drawing them out on paper.
The designs in yakuza tattoos are mostly symbolic and mostly focuses on Japanese mythology and history. Dragons and koi as symbols of wealth and prosperity. Samurai warriors represent honor and a moral code, geishas stand for symbols of fertility, good fortune and tradition. Then there’s also buddha, folklore creatures and even depictions of their Shinto gods.
The tattoos are one of the prominent traditions they have but then there’s also scary ones like yubitsume which is the act of cutting off the tip of a finger as a way to apologize to the gang for disobedience. Another one that is so cliche and even made fun of in dramas or manga, the infamous thrown and drowned in Tokyo bay.