Tradition and history
Japan’s art conceptions, deriving from diverse cultural traditions, have been formative in the production of a unique type of tattoos art and technique.
Japanese tattoos originated in the EDO period and derive from Japanese woodblock prints (ukiyo-e).
Japanese tattoos are unique in the sense that the tattoo artist tries to use the whole body as one big canvas. Every separate design is connected through stylized japanese wind and water.
Today, popular tattoo designs that we associate with Japanese tattooing are directly derived from japanese woodblock prints.
Many of these prints were inspired by a popular Chinese folk tale called Suikoden. In this tale many of the main characters were heavily tattooed master-less Samurai or Ronin. Woodblock prints that took inspiration from these stories served as a guide for the Japanese tattoo artists at the time.
Inspiration for many of the full body tattoo designs came from these stories. The most famous example is probably a series of prints from contemporary Japanese tattoo master Horiyoshi 3, he created a series of sumi ink prints called “108 heroes of the Suikoden”.
Tattoo artists today still take inspiration from woodblock prints.
Some of the most influential ones where Utagawa Kuniyoshi, he is most famous in the western world for his series of prints Heroes of Our Country’s Suikoden.
Another influential woodblock artist was Katsushika Hokusai, perhaps most famous for his series of prints Thirty six views of mount Fujil: a serie of thirty six woodblock prints all depicting Japans famous mount Fuji from different points of view and throughout different seasons.
The most famous one out of these is “The great wave of Kanagawa” where mount Fuji is seen in the background of a massive wave.