125+ Spiritual Traditional Japanese Style Tattoo – Meanings and Designs (2020)
You instantly recognize a traditional Japanese tattoo on sight because they are so unique, and huge. Hardly do you find a tiny one, because they have so much detail inside.
Often times they are worn on an entire limb and even the whole body, but you don’t have to do that though.
The astonishing thing with Japanese tattoos, however, is that they have maintained their original style, and people still appreciate an authentic traditional style.
Originally, they were used in the Japanese society either for spiritual purposes, or conveying social status. Because of people’s superstitions, they tended to associate certain creatures with their beliefs, and then use that in a tattoo.
At the same time, they were used to identify people in different classes, for example separating a slave from their owner.
This aspect of identification is what propelled the wide adoption of tattoos, with more and more people getting them to identify themselves.
Criminals, for one, had to adapt different designs in order to distinguish between the gangs they belonged, for example, the Yakuza and Japanese mafia.
Like all trends in the world, it caught on, although people were more interested in the beauty and design than their actual meanings. And I don’t blame anyone, they really are some eye-catching designs and colours.
They still carry a meaning, each of them, and it’d do you good to know what you’re printing on your skin.
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Meaning and application
Seeing as these tattoos have been around for ages, they reflect mainly on the beliefs, superstitions and environment of the Japanese people. Although they were used for identification, and this still is their main purpose, you can still find your own meaning in each tattoo.
They are now worn to represent someone’s beliefs, character or aspirations, for example, if you want to show you’re aggressive, a flower tattoo won’t do that. But there are several designs of these tattoos out there, and here are just some of the designs.
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Types of Japanese tattoos
Dragons have always been a fascination by people the world over, just watch Game of Thrones and see. They are a representation of power because of their ferocity and strength, because of their wings to fly and the ability to spit fire.
Despite all their power, they are still considered a force for good and protectors of mankind. Because of these attributes, they have become very popular, especially in Japanese tradition, and this is quickly catching on the world over.
If you want to display power and strength, and at the same time a good heart, this is the perfect tattoo for you. When done right, these tattoos are very beautiful and you can always choose between various colours and shapes.
These are related to dragon tattoos because they both display mythical creatures, but their meanings are different. While dragons are all powerful, the phoenix was once a regular bird, then after being consumed by fire, it rose again, more powerful than before.
It is therefore used as a sign of a triumph, or overcoming a challenge and you can wear this to show just that. If you have been through a trying period and survived, this will show that you are now stronger; it’s the equivalent of “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.
- Tiger, lion or fu-dog tattoos
The lion represents courage and protection, but in Japan and China, the Fu dog is more common. It is a combination of a dog and lion and can be seen at the entrance of most shrines. When you have this tattoo, it shows your readiness to protect what is yours, that you’re not afraid.
Some people also believe it wards off evil spirits and can be used to that effect.
The tiger, on the other hand, is more solitary, and shows strength by an individual. If you have had to fight for something on your own, or are not afraid to do something by yourself, this tattoo is for you.
There are few creatures more fascinating than snakes, and that is true for tattoos as well. They have varied meanings, and it really up to your interpretation. Some people think they protect you from bad fortune, as most people see them as a sign of good luck.
This is why some feed snakes whenever they find them in their home.
Others believe it to be a sign of wisdom, like the wise as a serpent’ quote. You can also use it to show change, snakes occasionally shed their skin to get rid of parasites growing on it. But most importantly, they do so to allow growth.
You can therefore wear this tattoo to illustrate your own growth by letting go of old habits.
Although most people associate skulls with death and danger, their application in Japanese tattoos is mostly an appreciation of the cycle of life. Life and death, sort of like the yin and yang illustration.
This tattoo can be used to remind you to value your life, live to the fullest and accept that death is inevitable. You can also use it as a reminder of someone who passed away.
- Koi fish tattoos
These are one of the most popular Japanese tattoo designs, because these fish are native to Japan. They are unique because they attempt to swim upstream the Yellow River, and it is believed that the few who get there are rewarded by being made into dragons.
It’s all a myth, of course, but this is the inspiration behind all those koi fish tattoos. They represent a struggle with enormous adversity, and the reward that follows.
You can thus wear this tattoo as a reminder of the pain you have been through, maybe a struggle with cancer or another disease.
- Water and wave tattoos
Japan is an island, and as such, the Japanese people have long depended on water for their livelihoods. Perhaps this is why water-related tattoos are so common in Japanese culture. Anyway, these tattoos represent life and provision, but the waves can also be dangerous.
When you have such a tattoo, it could mean either of those things, life and death, and as a reminder of how life changes like the waves of the sea. I have always found them to be calming too, reminding me to be calm even in the face of danger or adversity.