Japanese tattoos are one of the most impressive body art forms you can choose from. Often inked in bright colors and featuring mythical creatures, tattoos are sure to attract attention wherever you go.
The history and evolution of cultural traditions have had huge impacts on the form and meanings associated with different Japanese tattoos. However, you don’t need to master the long and complex history of Japan to deserve one of these tattoos.
Here are some of the most popular Japanese tattoos with important details and tips to help you select a good tattoo design.
Japanese Dragon Tattoos
Japanese mythology, poetry and other forms of literature are full of dragons. The Japanese dragon shares a form and associations found in other Eastern cultures such as Chinese and Korean dragons. The Japanese dragon, however, tends to be considerably wilder than the latter two.
To appreciate the meaning of Japanese dragon tattoos, you have to forget much of what western cultures associate with dragons. While European dragons are more likely to share characteristics with lizards and predatory birds, the Japanese dragon is more serpentine. This feature allows you to have Japanese dragon tattoos that wrap around the trunk or limbs.
Western cultures generally associate dragons with ferocity, strength and wealth. In Japanese culture, dragons have a more benevolent mythical association – seen as using their strength to help humans. Japanese dragon tattoos are often a mark of generosity, empathy and wisdom.
History of Japanese dragon tattoos
Dragon tattoos are among the most popular in Japanese culture. There is evidence to suggest that tattoos date back to the early Jomon era, around 12,000 years ago.
Most variants of the Japanese dragon tattoo, however, have reached the pinnacle of the nation’s feudal history. It is from the middle to the end of the 17th century. At the time, Japanese society underwent rapid social reorganization.
Common Japanese dragon tattoo variations
Japanese dragon tattoos come in a variety of shapes and characters. In Japanese mythology, the creatures interpreted as dragons in English are diverse. They incorporate original Japanese concepts and others imported from Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean variants.
Although there are variations of the winged Japanese dragon, this is usually the exception, not the rule. In most Japanese dragon tattoos, the creatures depicted are scaled serpentine beasts, with claws and fiery eyes.
Skills and techniques required to ink dragon tattoos
Japanese dragon tattoos are rarely one monotonous color. The addition of different shades and shades brings realism to the images. The tattoo artist inking the images must have a good concept of form and perspective.
The most commonly used ink in Japanese dragon tattoos is black. This is almost always supplemented with red dashes.
Japanese dragons are nothing passive. A good tattoo artist will have to bring a sense of action and movement from all angles of the image.
Tips for choosing an appropriate design
Here are some tips to keep in mind when looking for a good Japanese dragon tattoo:
- Japanese dragon tattoos are great by default, so be prepared to dedicate a large part of your skin to tattooing.
- If you’re looking for a minimalist Japanese tattoo, you may have to settle for a representation of the dragon’s head only.
- The dragon’s face is usually the most expressive part of the tattoo. Go for designs that accentuate the face with bright eyes and horned eyebrows.
Japanese Foo Dog Tattoos
The term dog Foo (or Fu) is misleading. The creatures represented are not dogs but bear feline features that most closely resemble a lion. The royal port of these lions distinguishes them as imperial guardians.
History of Japanese Foo Dog Tattoos
There are strong suggestions that Japanese foo dog tattoos borrow most of the elements of their representation from Chinese myths and images. There are no native lions in China or the Japanese archipelago. The foo dog of oriental folklore must come from the meetings that the traders had on the trade routes of the Silk Road.
Besides their prominent place in Asian tattoo culture, foo dogs are also very common as statues. Statues of lions with features reminiscent of foo dogs were prominent features flanking the entrances to royal palaces in ancient India.
As their legend traveled further east, statues of foo dogs became common as guardians of the entrances to Buddhist and Shinto temples. It was around the same time that they began to gain importance as tattoos in the Far East, including the Japanese islands.
Common Japanese Foo Dog Tattoo Variants
As with other Japanese tattoos, the colors used to ink foo dog tattoos give different meanings to the images. The generic Japanese foo dog tattoo represents guardianship and protection. When certain colors and shades become dominant in the appearance of the foo dog, this meaning may change accordingly.
Foo dog tattoos with mostly gold accents represent peace. Since gold is also associated with wealth and power, golden foo dog tattoos are highly valued. If you want your Foo dog tattoo to bring out Zen peace quality, you can add shades of light blue to the image.
Japanese tattoos representing a pair of foo dogs are used to bring out the concept of Yin and Yang. This male-female duality is present in all forms of Japanese philosophy. He talks about completeness and balance. When inked in pairs, you can tell the male foo dog because it usually contains a dark orb. The female Foo dog is generally depicted holding a cub.
Skill and Techniques Required for Foo Dog Tattoos Ink
To make a foo dog tattoo realistic, the artist must have skills to work on complex elements. Foo dog tattoos are generally not as extensive as, for example, dragon tattoos. Due to the intricacy of the details, a tattoo artist will need to take a long time to ink.
The use of color to bring out various meanings and associations attached to foo dogs is crucial. A competent tattoo artist must know Japanese mythology and oriental perspectives in general to ink culturally relevant Japanese foo tattoos.
Tips for choosing an appropriate design
Here are some helpful tips to use for a Japanese Foo dog tattoo:
- Get the tattoo inked where it can be seen – on the upper arm, inside the wrist or on the shin.
- In Japanese mythology, a foo dog will only offer protection to those who respect it. The tattoo should be located on an area of your body that you can keep clean at all times.
- If you opt for a male-female pair foo dog tattoo, the relative placement of each is important. From the point of view of the foo dog, the male is always to the left of the female.
Japanese Snake Tattoos
Just like with the dragon, the Japanese state of mind attaches a different connotation to the serpent compared to Western cultures. Most western concepts of the snake come from the cunning and sneaky snake of the Garden of Eden saga. Other ideas borrow from the purely malicious jellyfish of Greek mythology.
In Japanese and Eastern cultures, the snake represents courage, wisdom and good luck. In Japan, where the snake is known as ‘hebi’, snake tattoos also represent strength and change.
History of Japanese snake tattoos
For a long time in Japanese history, tattoos have been associated with criminals. As such, serpentine tattoos only became commonplace in the middle of the 17th century.
Before the Edo period of Japanese history (from 1603 to 1868 AD), snake tattoos were rare. As more and more liberal ideas permeated Japanese society, snake tattoos and other decorative forms of body art became acceptable.
Variations of common Japanese snake tattoo
There are many variations of Japanese snake tattoos to suit different tastes and sensibilities of body art. Tattoos can be graphic, minimalist and even psychedelic.
The Japanese viper inspires some of the most vivid Japanese snake tattoos. The scales on its back have intricate and overlapping circular patterns. The mosaic patterns of her belly offer good contrast when inked by a competent tattoo artist.
Japanese snake tattoos are often inked wrapped around a limb or torso. Some tattoo artists also ink them on the entire length of an arm. It is also possible to have a minimalist “snake ring” tattoo wrapped around a finger.
Skill and techniques required to ink Japanese snake tattoos
Before the modern era, the most evocative Japanese tattoo artists used gouging needles to ink tattoos on the skin. They also used black ink known as Nara in what was a difficult and painful process. The Nara ink turns bluish green under the pigmented human skin, becoming striking snake tattoos.
Tattooists who specialize in inking Japanese snake tattoos today use precision needles and do not need Nara ink for realism. To reproduce suggestive snake tattoos, however, they still need to be talented. If the snake tattoo wraps around a limb, the change in gradient and the contours of the body should not distort the image.
Tips for choosing an appropriate Japanese snake tattoo design
Browsing images of Japanese snake tattoo graphics can be confusing. Choosing the right one is not easy, especially if the images appear on a white two-dimensional surface.
Here are some tips to help you choose a good design:
- Before opting for a snake tattoo, ask if the artist can enlarge or reduce the size of the image. Only a tattoo image corresponding to the exact dimensions it will take on your skin can show you its realism.
- Go for snake tattoo designs that give an impression of 3D shape rather than simple, two-dimensional.
- If you plan to enlarge or embellish your tattoo later, choose a central point for the initial snake graphic.