The complicated history of Japanese tattoos through rare photographs, 1860-1890

Tattoos have an extensive history in Japan, and to truly understand the stigma behind them it is essential to be aware of their importance. The first record of tattoos was found in 5000 BC, during the Jomon period, on clay sculptures depicting designs on the face and body.

The first written record of tattoos in Japan dates back to AD 300, found in texts on the history of Chinese dynasties. In this lesson, Japanese men tattooed their faces and adorned their bodies with tattoos that had become a normal part of their society; However, a change began in the Kofun period between 300 and 600 AD where tattoos cast a more negative light.

Criminals in this period began to be marked with tattoos similar to those in the Roman Empire, where slaves were marked with descriptive phrases of the crime they had committed. This stigma towards body modification only got worse: by the 8th century, Japanese rulers had adopted many Chinese perspectives and cultures.

As tattoos fell, the first recorded use of an explicit form of punishment was in 720 AD, where criminals were tattooed on the forehead so that people could see that they had committed a crime.

These marks were reserved only for the most serious crimes. People wearing tattoos were ostracized from their families and rejected by society as a whole.

Tattoos experienced some degree of popularity in the Edo period through the Chinese novel Suikoden, which depicted heroic scenes with bodies decorated with tattoos.

This novel became so popular, people started getting these tattoos as physical renditions in the form of pictures. This practice eventually evolved into what we know today as Irezumi or Japanese tattooing.

This practice will have a major impact, with many woodblock artists converting their woodblock printing tools to begin making art on the skin.

During this time the tattoo became a status symbol; It is said that wealthy merchants were prohibited from wearing and displaying their wealth through jewelry, so instead, they decorated their entire bodies with tattoos to show off their wealth.

By the end of the 17th century, punitive tattooing was largely replaced by other forms of punishment. The reason tattooing was once again associated with gangs was that criminals were able to cover up these punitive tattoos with more elaborate decorative tattoos.

Members of the Yakuza began to use tattoos, for whom getting a painful and illegal tattoo was considered a testament to one's courage and loyalty to an illegal lifestyle.

However, tattoos became illegal once again in 1868. In the Meiji period, the emperor once again banned tattoos because he considered them distasteful and barbaric and westernized the country.

Nevertheless, Mohit went to Japan to seek the skills of foreign tattoo artists, and traditional tattooing continued underground. Tattooing was legalized by the occupying forces in 1948, but it has retained its image of criminality.

For many years, traditional Japanese tattoos were associated with the Yakuza Mafia, and many businesses in Japan (such as public baths, fitness centers and hot springs) still ban tattooed clients.

Although tattoos have gained popularity among the youth of Japan due to Western influence, there is a stigma on them among the general consensus.

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