55 Strong Japanese Samurai Tattoo – Designs & Meanings
There really is something special about the Japanese culture that has always made us curious to observe and perhaps even adapt some of it. A lot of people love Kung Fu movies, fascinated actually by the entire system and not just the fighting.
How one warrior, usually respected, takes on a seemingly impossible task for noble reason, and you can later realized they were called samurai.
There are no actual samurai right now, but they certainly made an impact on many people because of their principles and qualities. It is for this reason that people still wish to be associated with them, and one way to do that is to get a samurai tattoo.
Samurai tattoos are very common among the Japanese people, and they have only recently become more common in other cultures. They are very well detailed, as it is with all things Japanese, and they tend to become big. As a result, they are mostly worn on the shoulder, back, chest and sometimes the forearm.
History of the samurai
The samurai was a class of warrior in mediaeval Japan whose role was to protect and accompany the nobles in the region. This position was rarely earned but rather you had to be born of samurai blood or married into it.
Only the best warriors were elevated to de facto samurai status. Although there was still an emperor who ruled, he did so only in title, but the real power was with the samurai.
They existed between the 12th century until the early 19th century when then Emperor Meiji chose to adapt a more western-style army. The samurai faded in authority because of reforms that stripped them of their power and redirected it at the Emperor.
The samurai were literate and well read, some of them had even began practicing other art forms, so this revolution did not really hurt them, but merely changed their tools. Most of them became businessmen and writers.
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Meaning of samurai tattoos
What truly set the samurai apart were their principles of bravery, honour, respect and service. A samurai tattoo is worn to indicate these qualities in the wearer of the tattoo.
In fact, the samurai were trained to put these principles ahead of their own lives, and they were taught to be fearless in the face of death.
This would explain how they won various battles in which they were outnumbered.
These attributes of respect and honour, however, were only showed to the nobles they guarded, but they were ruthless to the commoners, even executing them when showed disrespect.
Therefore, a samurai tattoo could be considered a bit of a double-edged sword, on one hand showing incredible respect for the nobles and on the other despising those who are less than.
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Types of Samurai tattoos
All samurai tattoos have an image either of an actual samurai in the entire attire they wore or some other article or person related to the samurai.
- Samurai in full ragalia
The samurai was trained and lived to serve, always on the lookout for danger posed on the nobles and prepared to defend. The image of a samurai in the full costume is an indication of the readiness one possesses to defend what they stand for honourably.
You can choose the stance or pose the samurai is in to favour your message, plus you can choose the attire they are in. Originally, they wore leather but later on switched to iron plates.
- Samurai armour
The most common tattoo depicting the samurai attire is the kabuto which is the helmet worn by the samurai when they were on duty. It was a part of their attire and was worn for protection as well as identification to differentiate a samurai from a common soldier.
The other piece of the attire was called the ‘yoroi’ which was initially made of leather scales but later changed to iron with the advent of firearms.
It would be pointless to show just the yoroi in a tattoo, but the kabuto is smaller and clearly understood. If you’re not looking for a large and detailed samurai tattoo, then the kabuto would be a much simpler choice.
Just like the tattoo of a samurai in his attire, this one too shows readiness to defend and protect your principles.
- Samurai women
Whenever a samurai married, the lady would automatically become samurai, if she wasn’t before. High ranking samurais always married women from samurai families who would often be chosen for them but regular samurais had the luxury of choosing women on their own even if they weren’t samurai.
The samurai women were in charge of the home, taking care of the children and managing finances.
This is not to say they were powerless, in fact, many of them were taught to wield the pole arm called a ‘naginata’ and a knife ‘kaiken’. They were taught this because they had to protect the home when the husband was away in battle.
So, although most samurai women tattoos are beautiful and feminine, they are also a symbol of hidden ferocity when provoked into action.
Other characteristics of samurai women that could be expressed through such a tattoo include humility, loyalty, self-control, obedience and strength. Therefore, even a man can get one of these and still be a badass.
- Samurai weapon tattoo.
Although the samurai came to use firearms later on in the 15th century, they are mostly known, and admired, for their Japanese swords. The katana is a long sword and the wakizashi a shorter one; samurai were known to carry both at the same time.
Apart from the swords, other less common weapons are the longbow (yumi) and the spear (yari) and the pole arm (naginata).
All these are also used to show readiness for battle. They are hardly worn independently but rather in the hands of a samurai to emphasize their meaning.
Apart from the strictly samurai-related imagery, embellishments are common in every tattoo. We want to make it more personal and include various qualities that are unique to the person who is going to wear the tattoo.