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35 Delightful Yakuza Tattoo Designs – Traditional Totems with a Modern Feel

The yakuza tattoo has always been a source of inspiration and fascination for many tattoo lovers. This body art is one of the most elaborate and mysterious symbols because few people understand what it symbolizes.

There are also many designs of the tattoo available and as more people understand and accept their meanings their popularity is spreading globally.

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History of Yakuza Tattoos

The yakuza tattoo dates back to the 17th century Japan where the underclassmen that were involved in different crimes started forming gangs. These groups would sell stolen, and illegal goods and so to protect each other and their business they would create groups.

Due to the nature of the trade most would end up in prison and the authorities would tattoo them with symbols indicating they are criminals.

The tattoos would differ according to the crime that a person committed and so it was very easy to know what someone was in for even when he was released.

Most criminals would find ways to get rid of the body markings which in most cases entailed altering the shape or design of their totems or covering them with different body markings.

As the Japanese criminals were forming gangs, one of them stood out as it had more followers than the rest and it is this that took the name “Yakuza” that you can translate loosely to mean a crime syndicate.

The early member of this gang started to incorporate tattoos to their culture and customs and at some point tattooing became part of their initiation ritual.

For many years people would shy away from having anybody marking that one could associate with yakuza, but this has since changed.

Nowadays the totems are perceived as just another type of body art and so any tattoo lover can have them for their beauty as they do not have to symbolize that you belong to any gang.

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Meaning and Symbolism

The most common meaning that people will associate with these tattoos is allegiance or adoration of the yakuza gang. Historians credit this group with the origin of this totem, and so as much as times are changing, it is still impossible to shake off this meaning.

The yakuza will also have these tattoos to not only symbolize their devotion to their gang but also as a symbol of masculinity. But, this should not discourage you from having any of these totems because your body marking will mean anything that you want in these modern times.

These tattoos can also be a symbol of pain or the ability to withstand any hardships that you may face in life. This symbolism comes from the “hand-poking” or “Irezumi” technique that the yakuza use to draw their totems.

It is a very painful method of tattooing and so having this tattoo can symbolize that if you can withstand all that pain, you can face any situation or anything in life.

The other meanings and symbolism that you can associate with this tattoo will depend on the particular type of totem that you have. Different things will have varying meaning, and so it is important to understand this before you get inked.

For example, if you have the samurai your body marking will symbolize courage, strength, and respect for the Japanese traditions. The koi fish, on the other hand, will mean intention to succeed and determination while the yakuza dragon is a symbol of generosity and wisdom.

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The yakuza tattoo is very popular, and this is because there are many types available to conform to the tastes of different people. And so you should not avoid having this tattoo thinking that it will limit you when it comes to design options.


The following are some of the favorite Yakuza totems that you can draw.

Yakuza Dragon

In the Japanese culture, the dragon is an important mythical creature that attracts a lot of respect as it is a symbol of wisdom, power, and strength. The Yakuza respect their culture, and this is the reason why you will find some colorful dragons inked on their back or in other places.

It is also very common to combine it with other body markings.

Full Body Suit

The full body suit is the ultimate symbol of a yakuza and it entails drawing most of the back and front part while only leaving a small strip of skin at the front. If you can withstand the pain that comes with this tattoo design, then you will have an amazing body art.

The full body suit can include different types of Japanese images and symbols.

The Samurai

The Samurai is another famous yakuza body marking, and it entails drawing this ancient warrior wielding a sword or in a meditation position.

Samurai Warriors are a symbol of fascination not only in the Japanese culture but worldwide due to the legendary stories and tales surrounding them. These warriors look best when you have them at the back, but you can still have them in any other place that you want.

Geisha/Koi/Cherry Blossom

Some people may not be comfortable with having dragons, skulls or the samurai as their yakuza totem but this is not a problem because there are many other designs available.

The Geisha is a beautiful and attractive image in the Japanese culture, and so it also makes a beautiful yakuza body marking. And if you prefer something very symbolic and meaningful then the koi and cherry blossom are perfect ideas.

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Yakuza Totem Placement

Although nowadays you can have this totem anywhere that you want there are some specific places that the traditional yakuza symbols look best. The back is one of this places, and this is because it provides enough space to draw the complicated design.

Some people also prefer to have the totems as full body art while other are comfortable with drawing their tattoo on the upper arm or as a sleeve. Other places that you can have these symbols include the hip, neck and the side of the stomach.

In Short…

The yakuza tattoo is not for everyone because some people still see it only as a symbol of affiliation to criminal gangs. However, those who understand this type of body art know that it is sumptuous and also unique.

Whether you recognize the images on these tattoos or not, they are still great symbols that are worth having on your body.

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