A History of Japanese Body-Suit Tattooing

History records the practice of punitive tattooing across at least two thousand years. Japan was the last country to abolish punitive tattooing, in 1870. As elsewhere, the Japanese covered these marks of shame with decorative tattoos. These became more elaborate as their popularity increased in the larger cities of Japan during the Tokugawa period (1603-1868) as a reaction to strict sumptuary laws. Tattooing was repeatedly abolished, without effect. Even today, it is illegal to display tattoos publicly in Japan. In Japan, tattoos are primarily associated with the yakuza. A History of Japanese Body-suit Tattooing traces the origins and development of the Japanese yakuza, ranging over their pre-WWII history, samurai and Bushido influences, the darker side of Tokugawa rule, and gambling connections; and describing what happens when a highly regulated society disintegrates. While acknowledging the impact on tattoo of Kuniyoshi’s famous print series, this book concentrates on other print artists who depicted tattooed heroes and kabuki actors. It profiles the tattoo artist Horikazu of the Asakusa district and includes numerous examples of his sketches and work, with explanations of Japanese motifs and techniques. It also comprehensively covers the history of the Asakusa temple complex and the Sanja Matsuri, the Shinto festival held in Asakusa which is a showcase for full body-suit tattoos adorning members of the various yakuza gangs who reside in the district. The authors hope this book will contribute to the growing interest in tattoo as an art form of which the Japanese body-suit must be the supreme example.


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