Shinji Horizakura

Hey tat lovers.

I've located what appears to be the great Shinji Horizakura'studio in New York. Check out this website, with examples of his and other extremely talented people's work and have your mind blown away, then check out the videos further down in this blog concerning his work and have your mind blown away again. I wonder what the waiting list must be.

Shinji Horizakura

Ukiyo inspiration

Here is a video on Ukiyo artwork. I hope people looking for an irezumi might be inspired by it. If not, just look at the pretty pictures!

Ukiyo tattoos

As taken from Wikipedia

"Ukiyo or the Floating World is a term used to describe many aspects of life, including - but not limited to - the pleasure-seeking lifestyle and culture of Edo Period Japan.

This view of the Floating World is centered on Yoshiwara, the licensed red-light district of Edo (modern Tokyo). The area's brothels, teahouses and kabuki theatres were frequented by Japan's growing middle class. This particular Floating World culture also arose in other cities such as Osaka and Kyoto.

The famous Japanese woodblock prints known as ukiyo-e, or "pictures of the Floating World", depict scenes of the Floating World: geisha, kabuki actors, sumo wrestlers, samurai, and prostitutes."

Those are probably the most dreamy or sensual tattoos found on Yakuza members. The connection of the themes to the underworld is obvious. Coupled with the aesthetic value and the depiction of characters with similar personal traits to the Yakuza, makes this a no-brainer for any Yakuza to have as a tattoo.

I think the woodblock art style is more than obvious. Most illustrations are directly lifted off traditional illustrations of geishas and samurais, harkening back to the Yakuza's and Japan's past.

Check out the artist Horitaka's website HERE. He has written some really cool fully illustrated books on Tebori and Irezumi, including an excellent book on Floating World tattoos (the image above right is the cover to that book).

Send us stuff!

Hi all again.

I'd like you guys and gals to send us pictures of your tebori and yakuza tattoos so we can post them here. If we get enough material, we might even consider adding a gallery feature.


Hi all.

I'd like to start putting links on tebori studios in here, along with some reviews. If you're going to get an ink-job, you might as well know who is doing it to you. Besides, tebori artists don't normally advertise as prominently as their skills would warrant, so if you've discovered a true genius, here is the place to share it with the world.

Check this guy out. I love his shading and colors and he has quite a range in his work. It's Hori Taku San of Starlight Tattoos, contacts are in this LINK.

What I love most about tebori is the way shading makes the design look almost three-dimensional. Even the simplest designs (and tebori guys never do simple) are full of life and vibrant colors.


Tattoos and criminality

There may be a couple of reasons why Tebori and Yakuza are so closely related. In the mid-1800’s, Japan entered a phase of opening up to the world after years of isolation. The government at the time outlawed tattooing to “clean up” Japan’s image.

Why this would clean up their image is neither here or there, although if you ask me, it might have been because tattoos were associated with criminals, sailors and the poor classes in the West and Japan wanted to make a good impression to the new business partners. This meant that anyone with a tattoo was automatically an outlaw. The Yakuza, never being the ones to care about what society thought, made it their point to wear tattoos proudly, hence the association.

Another reason could be that tattoos were placed on slaves around 300AD, as a form of identification (as many other cultures did at the time). Hence, the association was made that people with tattoos=filth. I’ve read somewhere that the Yakuza are one of the few institutions in Japan that make no distinctions in class, color, gender, or ethnicity and frequently take in runaways and people who wouldn’t be given the time of day by anyone else. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine that Yakuza ranks at some point or other included people tattooed as punishment. Having a tattoo wasn’t stigma to them and, being the flamboyant characters they are, they might have adopted it as their “call card”. It’s funny then that many Yakuza members avoid getting tattooed to avoid recognition.

Oh, it will hurt

Anyone with an ink-job out there knows that, depending on the spot, it hurts like hell. And that’s with electrical guns that go in and out of the skin so fast, they vibrate. Yakuza, on the other hand, do it the old way, that is, hand-poked (Tebori).

Not for the squeamish, this is hardcore needle-poking!

A couple of videos on Shinji Horizakura, a true master of Tebori.

Apparently, it hurts like nothing else, but the results worth it. A full body tat may take anywhere between 1 to 5 years, if the artist works on it on a weekly basis, and can easily cost over $30k. Finding a decent artist is surprisingly difficult, as they are a secretive bunch, and you’d have to rely on word-of-mouth. Talking about dedication.

Let’s talk about tats

Now that we got the history out of the way, let’s get on with the tats. Lots of sentos (public bathhouses) and gyms in Japan, but also where the Yakuza is highly active (say, Korea), impose restrictions on people with body-covering tattoos in order to prevent Yakuza members from frequenting those places. It could be for any number of reasons, not least of all the Yakuza’s reputation. This is strange, for the reason that Yakuza members rarely put their ink-jobs out on display for everyone to see, anyway. One case when they actually go out of their way to display them is when they play cards, especially Oicho-Kabu, which is of huge importance to the Yakuza (Ya-ku-za is one of the worst hands in the game, according to one interpretation, and what gave them their name).

As the tattoo stigma wears off in Japan, especially Tokyo, more and more people start getting them, so the above restriction becomes more and more difficult to get enforced. However, don’t count on being allowed into a sento if you have a dragon ink-job or anything that’s bigger than a kanji or gaijin. It definitely isn’t cool, as I hear that public baths in Japan are a big deal, socially-speaking. Yakuza tats are typically very elegant and of a very particular style called Irezumi, so I’m wondering if they’d still refuse entrance to someone like me who has very Western ink-jobs, full of hard angles and European themes (FYI, I got sailor stars and a big chaos star on my back, sooooo not Yakuza). Anyone having any such experience, give us a shout, eh?
Another event where Yakuza would show off tats, would be in religious ceremonies. Check this video out

Yakuza are very community-oriented and can always be found in any Matsuri (progression).

A brief history of the Yakuza

For those living in a cave or fact fans, here is a brief history of the Yakuza.
Yakuza, (aka, gokudo), are members of traditional organized crime groups in Japan. Outside of Japan, the term also refers to traditional Japanese organized crime in general, although the media will typically call any Japanese criminal activity “Yakuza work” (obviously a mistake). There are said to be about 84,700 members of Yakuza in Japan, but those numbers come mostly from what the police can deduce from membership lists. It is doubtful this includes every single one of the families, each member’s respective gang, or so-called “freelance” Yakuza (people with loose ties to a family, who are usually looked down upon, but who can be used for activities that shouldn’t be traced back to a family). In Japanese legal terminology, yakuza organizations are referred to as boryokudan, literally "violence groups" -- and is considered an insult to Yakuza members as it can be applied to any violent criminal.

We won’t delve much into the history of the Yakuza, interesting subject as it may be. There are more knowledgeable people and sites out there for that. However, we probably won’t be able to avoid it, anyway. So, although our main focus will be Yakuza tattoos, expect small tidbits and facts here and there.

Intro, Yakuza-style

Hey everyone and mushi mushi.

This blog’s purpose is to explore the uniqueness of Yakuza tattoos. All three of us who contribute to this blog are tattoo fanatics, as well as multimedia designers, so our curiosity is more than academic, it’s downright personal. We are attracted and fascinated by the ceremonial nature that tattoos have for the Yakuza inner circle, where tattoos are not only a personal statement, but a way of defining ones self, as well as their beauty. We hope to gather some info on them here and give those who are interested a platform to add their own stories and knowledge.

We hope you enjoy this as much as we do.
-Yuhao, Vangelis, Zhaoge