yakuza-tattooSome of the most fascinating and intricate tattoos in the world belong to what the Japanese call the Yakuza, a very large Japanese crime syndicate. The process of getting the tattoos, that sometimes cover their entire body, has become somewhat of a ritual, displaying the person’s feelings towards fitting in with society and its rules. Because of the tattoos and their known history in Japan, some establishments will not allow person’s with tattoos to come inside.

Similar to the Maori tribesmen of the Polynesian islands, the yakuza tattoos often display images that can be traced back to their tribe or clan name and type. Depending on where the person is from, the tattoos can vary in style and coloration and placement on their body. Some of the tattooed yakuza can be seen with a bare line running from the neck down to the navel, an area that is not tattooed at all. This almost gives the impression that the person is wearing a shirt made of tattoos. The tattoos also run down the arms like a sleeve of a shirt and then beyond onto and covering the hands.

Often the tattoos of the yakuza are hand poked meaning no machines are used to create the tattoos. The ink is inserted into the skin by use of very sharp hand made needles or bamboo. This process can take years and is very painful and very expensive.

Like American mobster movies, there have been movies made about the yakuza as well. Within the movie actors are given fake tattoos covering their bodies, made to look like real Japanese yakuza. Even the women have been known to receive tattoos, some more prominent and detailed than others. Mostly it is the wives or mistresses of yakuza members that have the tattoos. The daughter of a yakuza had herself tattooed very intricately and also wrote a book on the subject of her bring the daughter of a gangster.

Originally, centuries ago the Shogun would have criminals tattooed so that society would be able to tell them apart from law abiding citizens. Eventually the tattooed criminals began to band together to create a team, sticking together and working together and eventually becoming an organized type of gang which has now evolved into the Yakuza. Of course the tattoos from the Shogun era were nothing near as detailed and complex as the tattoos seen on Yakuza members today. Unfortunately there are very few pictures or documentation of what the tattoos looked like that were given to criminals back in that time. Supposedly it was only a black ring around the arm and more black rings were added each time a new conviction was earned. Some yakuza have been known to use black rings around their arm to symbolize how many people they have killed.