Irezumi tattoos have been an incredibly popular request in most tattoo studios across western society for quite some years now.
The word 'irezumi' simply means tattoo in Japanese.
That should be no surprise, as the beautiful mystical creatures and flowers that make up most designs are a head nod to the land of their origins.
Just as with many cultures, Japanese tattoos have been a popular form of art for centuries.
In fact, the first signs of Irezumi tattoos appear in artifacts from thousands of years ago.
Throughout the centuries, tattoos have gone in and out of vogue in Japan, just have they done in more recent history.
The 18th century saw a resurgence of tattoo fashion in Japan when the colorful and incredibly pictorial Ukiyo-e style entered the pop culture.
This style of tattoo became popular amongst the lower classes and it was thus viewed as quite unsavory. It wasn't long before the art of tattooing became outlawed in Japan.
So what revived the ancient art of Irezumi? There was one loophole in the law...the banning of tattoos did not include foreigners.
Therefore, many visiting sailors would have their bodies decorated in the distinctive and incredibly rare designs.
These sailors would then, of course, venture out across the world and take the symbols, cultural motifs, and styles of irezumi with them.
This Japanese style of tattoo became somewhat of a sought-after fashion piece.
The koi is a breed of fish with an impressively long lifespan.
As such, they take their common role in Japanese artistic culture (and in Irezumi tattoo culture, specifically) as a symbol of longevity, good health, persistence, and resilience.
The dragon is a frontrunner for the most iconic creature in Japanese tattoos.
The Ryu carries with it a symbol of strength and wisdom - as well as being one of profound blessing.
They were said to be protectors of the people by manipulating the elements of mother earth.
The phoenix conjures up quite an interesting talking point in Irezumi tattoos because its meaning in western culture vs Japanese culture is a little different.
One might say that the meaning of the tattoo is personal to the owner, therefore.
In the west, the symbol of the phoenix represents resilience, fight, and re-birth.
In Japanese culture, it is an emblem of the imperial household. It also represents obedience, justice, and fidelity - as well as fire and the sun.
Another creature with quite contrasting meaning between the cultures: in Japanese tattoo culture the snake is an integral guardian, a loyal servant and protector of riches and fortune.
It can also symbolize rebirth (with its shedding of skin) and transformation.
Therefore, it can hold more of the meaning that western culture gives to the rising phoenix.
Although most of the creatures above can take demonic shapes in tattoos, the Oni are the true devils of Irezumi tattoo art.
They represent disaster, plague, disease and other nasties that threaten humanity.
Apart from the grotesque fangs, horns, claws, and vibrant skin - they look largely humanoid in appearance.
They are often armed with weapons known as katanas, which look like gruesome studded clubs.
Kitsune are known for their intelligence in Japanese folk art.
Creatures considered being immortal and holding magical powers, they eventually leave their earthbound bodies and morph into Tenko - celestial spirit foxes - and transcend into the heavens.
Amongst their incredible superpowers, kitsune can implant dreams into your mind, fly and even shoot lightning from their mouths.
Cool! Further legends depict them as possible shapeshifters, morphing into human bodies to cause mischief amongst the unsuspecting societies.
These are known as the 'King of Beasts' in Japanese folklore.
You'll often find them looking like hellish lions on century duty at the gates of palaces, temples and other important buildings around Japan.
They are symbols of courage and guardianship and are used to chase away the evil spirits.
The tengu are ghostly supernatural creatures and they are commonly associated with scenes of thunderous war and darkness.
In ancient mythology, you'll see them depicted in the sky, like birds of prey. In today's art, they take more of a humanoid form and their long beaks have morphed into demonic noses.
You'll find them most often depicted in shades of red for military symbolism. They have a wrathful air about them.
You might have noticed that all of the creatures above hold strong and masculine symbolism.
It's no surprise then that, as far as tattoos for men go, irezumi designs are quite popular.
The masculine and colorful features of these mythical juggernauts lend themselves well to larger tattoo works, making them ideal for full-back pieces, chest pieces, arm, and leg sleeves.
The brightly colored creatures of Irezumi tattoos are often contrasted against a dark or shaded background.
These backgrounds can be made up of any number of patterns; from scales to feathers, to clouds.
Irezumi aren't just tattoos for men though! If you've looked into the art of irezumi at all, you will have realized that there are a great many floral designs involved too.
These floral displays, like the cherry blossom, are a distinctive motif of Japan, even today.
They can add a softer edge to Irezumi tattoos and, therefore, make them an attractive option for females too.
The Irezumi tattoo, or Japanese tattoo, has been a very fashionable style over the last few years and the popularity seems to be continuing.
They make excellent larger pieces and can carry a great deal of personal symbolism to the owner.
The mythical creatures of Japanese culture can represent love, integrity, courage, longevity, rebirth, guardianship, strength, intelligence, cunning, family, and many more.
As always, if you're considering a tattoo in this style, make sure to do your research and due diligence to find the right artist for your concept.
What's your favourite Irezumi tattoo? Tell us here!