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History and Meaning Oriental Tattoos

Long gone are the days when tattoos were exclusive to criminals, anarchists and all-round social deviants. In modern society, tattoos are quickly gaining ground among individuals who which to express themselves through carrying their art on their sleeve – so to speak. This is not a new or unique concept though; tattooing has existed for millennia.

It is commonly believed that tattoos originated from ancient Egypt, albeit not exactly accurate. Archeologists discovered clay figurines in Japan dating back to 3000 B.C., depicting warriors with tattoo marks on their face. In fact, flourishing tattoos was nothing strange during the Jomon and Kofun period – 300 A.D. These markings were by no means decorative. Oriental men brandished them to ward off evil forces, while women marked their skin to represent fertility. 

So the practice of adorning the body spread through Asia along the silk routes, but it was only around 600 A.D when tattooing took on a different meaning to society. Thieves bore specific tattoos, and tattooing became the new form of punishment for social crimes. It was only in the middle of the 18th century, thanks to Suikoden, a very popular Chinese novel featuring heavily tattooed heroes, when a new modernized interpretation of skin ink formed. This novel greatly influenced the oriental tattoos that we see in designs today.

Samurai Tattoo

Oriental tattoos offer something for everyone, be it a delicate blossom, a fierce dragon breathing fire or a symbol depicting your strength. Aside from the colorful variety in the designs, oriental tattoo’s importance lies in its meaning.

Most Popular Oriental Tattoos

• Dragons
The dragon is possibly one of the most popular tattoo choices among both men and women. It is associated with freedom, mystery, strength, wisdom, power and protection. The myth teaches that dragons are guardians of gold, so the mighty beast is also associated with wealth and material gain.

Cherry Blossoms
Called Sakure, cherry blossoms are believed to represent life itself. The delicate bud can survive is the harshest conditions, only to bloom for a couple of days.

Koi Fish
The koi fish is the perfect symbol to indicate the human struggle. Legend says that the koi swam upstream all the way to heaven, where they were transformed into dragons.

Single Character Calligraphy
This one is the most popular choice among Westerners. It is also the prime example of tat-astrophies, simply because the original meaning gets lost in translation.

Before you decide on getting a permanent symbol on your body, double check and check again that it is accurate. Consult a professional linguist if you have to, else you might think you’re getting very manly symbol for “strength and courage” engraved on your skin in strong bold lines, only to end up with the characters for “sticky rice”

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