A History of Japanese Body Suit Tattooing

By Mark Poysden; Marco Bratt
(Koninklijk Instituut Voor de Tropen, Paperback, 9789074822756, 223pp.)

Publication Date: December 1, 2006

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* Traces the history of the practice and artistry of body suit tattooing in Japan. * Highly illustrated: color and b/w photos and illus throughoutTattooing has had a long and sometimes dark life, particularly in Japan. The practice of punitive tattooing has existed for at least two thousand years globally. Japan was the last country to abolish it, in 1870. As elsewhere, the Japanese covered these marks of shame with decorative tattoos. The decorative designs became more elaborate as their popularity increased, largely 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-organized crime. 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. The book then discusses the artistic influences on these designs. While acknowledging the impact of Kuniyoshi's famous print series on the art of tattoo, this book concentrates on other print artists who depicted tattooed heroes and kabuki actors. For instance, 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.

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