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Rules of Japanese tattoos


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Hello everyone.

I love Traditional Japanese tattoos and in designing one for myself I've been learning about the strict rules that they follow. So far i haven't found much online, though i did see some links in previous threads but they aren't specific enough. If anyone can answer these questions, or knows where to find the answers, I'm grateful for their help.

Firstly, are there any masculine of feminine colors in tattoos? (I know that in general Japanese culture red is masculine, but I want to know about the tattoo symbolism specifically.)

Secondly, I've been told that the main focus of the traditional style is the season it is set in. What i want to do is have three different tattoos on my upper body and i want to join them so it looks like one big piece, I'm curious it if is appropriate to have a spring tattoo joined to a fall tattoo that's joined to a summer tattoo, or if it needs to be one whole piece with the same theme all around.

Aside from those specific questions i would love to hear any interesting rules or traditions of Japanese tattooing.

Thank you for any knowledge you may give me.

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I am in no way the authority on this... at all. But for the sake of conversation and mutual learning on a topic I also enjoy, I'll chime in.

For clarity, when you say Traditional Japanese, it can mean a few things. There are a few flavors, for example, tebori is the traditional method of Japanese tattooing, but you can get something not so traditionally themed from someone who does tebori (Jess Yen). Another example, is the Horitoshi family, I always fall back to them since they are the most well known traditionalists. They do tebori, mostly, and stick to mostly traditional themes, but even they are flexible and give the customer what they want.

If you are dead set in getting the most traditional Japanese work, then you would probably want someone who does tebori and has an intimate knowledge of Japanese culture. That person would know that cherry blossoms bloom in the spring and koi only jump up to the Dragon Gate in the winter, so you would never combine the 2. I just made that up by the way, I don't know if that's true.

In this case, I would not pick 3 separate ideas and make them fit. I would pursue 1 artist, 1 piece, beauty. I'm sure you could find a traditional who can blend the seasons. I think I remember seeing something like that from Horimitsu. I would rely on the artist you pick to be the one to design it.

As far as pigments go...only certain ones were available in the old days, so that was why certain colors were used, ha. I am not aware of the significance of color if there is one. Some colors could be construed as more masculine or feminine based on the observer, but cherry blossoms are pink. I would not consider anyone less manly for having pink cherry blossoms.

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I would not consider anyone less manly for having pink cherry blossoms.

this reminds me of the funniest things i remember Garver saying on Miami Ink (i apologize for being a tattoo TV watcher). anyways, he was tattooing a tiger with cherry blossoms on some 18yr old kid and the kid's mom was there the whole time. as he was coloring it, he said he added the surprise of an all pink cherry blossom for the kid's mom. the mom thought it was cute and they were all laughing it off and Garver slips in, "what's wrong with pink?! some of my favorite things in the world are pink." The mom and kid didn't catch it and Garver just had a sly smile.

OK.. back to the topic. i was kinda interested to know when koi swim upstream, so i asked lord google and this was the first link: http://jamesthen.com/the-rules-of-the-japanese-tattoo/ there's a lot of information out there online, but as @Cork mentioned, the right tattoo artist will know these answers.

One of the right tattooers just so happens to write books. This is a good start for $20... Bushido: Legacies of Japanese Tattoos: Takahiro Kitamura, Katie M. Kitamura: 9780764312014: Amazon.com: Books

when i got my dragon koi from Jill Bonny, she let me know that it is actually a Chinese legend, not Japanese. makes sense, since the legend takes place in the Yellow River in China. mine has maple leaves.

you can try to find pics of body suit pics from reputable traditional japanese tattooers and see what kind of themes they stick with and what kind of themes they mix.

but again... find the right artist and trust 'em.

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@Faolan, I'm not sure about colors symbolism in general within the Japanese culture, but if you're looking at old school traditional Japanese tattoos the color palette was fairly limited due to the lack of availability of colors to be used. As for seasons really old traditional styles used 1 season from what I've seen. That said there are a lot of rules. Not every tattoo family had the same rules and for that matter a lot of regions varied in rules as well. I'd find an artist knowledgeable about traditional Japanese and discuss what you're looking for with them. These days "traditional" seems to be just a word and as @Cork mentioned some artists work in a traditional manner by hand (tebori) but their graphic style is contemporary while others work completely by machine but their graphic style is akin to old tattoo designs. Then there are others who work by machine, their graphic styles are contemporary, but they adhere to following the stories and pairings, etc. If you're looking for über traditional, think long and hard about what you want and find the right artist. Some subjects do not pair well with others, while some figures or animals or plants pair extremely well with one another.

Woops, I read Cork's response yet I pretty much just repeated it. Well I second his logic.

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