There are many tattooists these days carrying on the ancient tradition of Japanese tattoos. Dragons, koi, clouds, and legendary deities; these are the most well-known icons of Irezumi, but there is an archive of many different designs and concepts that are the foundations of this style. With its own rules and traditions, the Japanese aesthetic is one that is difficult to replicate. The best artists have trained and practiced for years to be able to be the highly skilled artisans they are. There is much to be said about the history, imagery, illegality, and contemporary artists who practice this incredibly important cultural art form.
The lineage of Japanese tattooing can be traced back almost 5,000 years ago to primitive clay figurines who were decorated with tribal tattoos and found within archaic tombs within the continent. Although these clay figures have rather simple designs, it was in the Edo period, from 1603 to 1868, when the emergence of the Ukiyo-e woodblock style that Japanese tattooing became what we know of today. Depicting beautiful nature scenes, daily life for courtesans and peasants alike, fashion plates, stories of war, ghosts, animals, and even erotic episodes like those within Shunga, the style of Ukiyo-e is very particular due to the way they were created with blocks of wood, several depending on the intricacy of the design.
Due to the illegality of Japanese tattooing, many artists have been pushed underground, and their studios are often difficult to find. However, tattooing thankfully still continues, not only through traditional Irezumi artists such as Horiyoshi III, Horitomo, Horimasa, Horikashi, and Horitada but also through non-Japanese tattooists who practice in other parts of the globe. Chris Garver, Henning Jorgensen, Ami James, Mike Rubendall, Sergey Buslaev, Lupo Horiokami, Rion, Brindi, Luca Ortis, Ganji, Kiku, Dansin, and Wendy Pham are all artists who either follow the guidelines of traditional Irezumi, or merge Japanese tattooing aesthetic with their own personal stylings.