I've done a search on the net and on here but can't find what I'm looking for. Does anyone know a source to explain the symbolism behind Japanese tattoos? I'm not talking about high level Koi means this, Dragon means this; I'm talking about a really detailed explanation such as an explanation of what the symbolism behind a Samurai holding a scroll in his mouth is, or what it means for a Samurai to be shown killing a Koi fish.
I'm thinking about ideas for my next big piece and don't just want to put some random symbols on myself, or if I do, I want to do it by choice, not by ignorance.
I'm curious about the elements of the traditional Japanese tattoos. I've found a few pieces of information but not very much. Was there a discussion on this form about that topic I might have missed (and someone could point me to?) Or is there a website or book that someone could suggest? I've been looking at some google images of woodblock prints but for this kind of thing (visual images) I usually need written/verbal direction to help me identify elements and patterns.
Just thought id make a post to see some cool tattoo history I am currently at the shop and have some more cool original stuff at home, ill soon be posting an original Owen Jensen acetate stencil and an original Bert Grimm acetate stencil. But ill start it off by sharing an original Zeke Owens tattoo machine I have, sorry about the screenshot from instagram its a good double shot of the engraving and the actual machine. also i dont know if anyone would be interested, but i make acetates myself just for fun, if you have any design you want message me! i love doing them and will bust out some for free or for a trade with all of you! Message me if your into it! anyway heres the picture hope you guys enjoy it!
A while ago I came across this newspaper article about Nick Wasko, who tattoos at Port Side Tattoo in Vancouver (actually, just checked that and it looks like the shop just closed down and it's not clear if/where he's tattooing now), and his attempts to document the history of traditional tattooing in Vancouver.
Tattoo Historian Follows Ink Trail of Art
It's a cool article about a subject that it seems like not many people know that much about. The most famous old-school tattooer in Vancouver is probably Doc Forbes (the pin-up article at tattooarchive.com claims that Sailor Jerry considered Doc Forbes one of his big influences in his pin-up designs), and there are plenty of pictures of him and his tattoos around. There are some here on the Old Tattoo Photos thread, and I recall seeing a bunch in Hanky Panky's 1001 Tattoos book as well. Wasko has gone a lot deeper than that though and is trying to find as much as he can about tattooers that there is seemingly very scant information on. The article is brief, though it hints at a lot.
As far as I can tell from my own research, the designs in "traditional Canadian" tattooing aren't remarkably different than those in traditional American tattooing. The Lucky Supply Tattoo Museum has a dozen sheets of Doc Forbes' flash up for viewing on their site and the designs closely follow the traditional canon of roses, daggers, ships and anchors, eagles, snakes, dragons, ladies, etc. As an aside, this was the root of my interest in the subject...eagle tattoos are awesome, but what did Canadians traditionally get? Moose? Beavers? No, they got eagles. Though in Carol Clerk's Vintage Tattoos book I'm pretty sure that I saw some WWII-era Canadian naval designs that had beavers on them.
Thomas Lockhart's West Coast Tattoo in Vancouver also has a tattoo museum and there are a couple of examples of old Canadian flash, one by F.A. Baldwin (described there as one of Canada's first tattooists) dating back to 1910-1920:
I've gathered other tiny bits of information about the history of tattoos in Canada--for example, Amund Dietzel ended up in North America after being shipwrecked off the coast of Quebec; Betty Broadbent apparently tattooed in Montreal (I would guess as a travelling carnie thing?)--but nothing systematic. I don't know, I'm a nerd about this kind of stuff.
Does anybody have anything else? Most of the information we have seems to be about Vancouver, which isn't surprising since that's probably the Canadian city with the most important tattoo scene both because it's a port and because geographically it's on the West Coast and is connected with West Coast tattooing generally (eg D.E. Hardy tattooed in Vancouver for a while), but what about Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax? These cities must have tattoo histories as well, probably especially Halifax (probably worth looking into Sailor Jerry Swallow here). Is "Canadian traditional tattooing" distinct enough to merit discussion on its own instead of just being part of "American traditional tattooing"?