Posts Tagged ‘Yakuza tattoos’

Gang tattoos IV

Written by Rocky Geneva on . Posted in blog


Fourth post in this topic, this will be a brief presentation about the yakuza tattoos’ history and symbolism; probably one of the world’s most known and talked about tattoo types.

Believed to be one of the largest organized crime phenomena in the world, they have been around longer than the Sicilian and Russian mafia. The origins of the yakuza organisations is uncertain, but most modern yakuza derive from two classifications which emerged in a division of Japanese history which was ruled by the shoguns of the Tokugawa family, running from 1603 to 1868. These are the tekiya, those who primarily peddled illicit, stolen or shoddy goods; and bakuto, those who were involved in or participated in gambling. More on Yakuza history here.

In Japanese legal terminology, Yakuza organizations are referred to as bôryokudan, literally violence groups. To a Yakuza member, the most important thing is courage. They are prepared to fight to the death, rather than lose the battle. Yakuza members must be willing to die for their boss.

The Yakuza hold within their skin some of the most detailed, vibrantly colored tattoos known to this world. The yakuza tattoos have distinctive and special meaning, because of Japanese tribal culture, but also regarding their social behavior and the illegal characteristics of Japanese crime organization. This is a sign that they were unwilling to accommodate themselves to societies rules and norms. For many years, traditional Japanese tattoos were associated with the yakuza. For this reason many businesses still ban customers with tattoos.

In the days of the Shogun, Japan’s authorities would mark criminals with tattoos to distinguish them, these highly visible tattoos usually took the form of a black ring around the arm; with rings added as convictions increased. These tattooed men would stick together and form gangs. This custom was picked up by some modern day Yakuza members, who get a black ring tattooed around the arm for each crime they commit.

Yakuza members get tattooed for mostly two reasons, for one they get the tattoo to show their determination, strength and willpower. They also get it to show their loyalty to their Yakuza clan and it’s lifestyle. The intimidation factor is invalid, as they rarely show their tattoos in public, unless it’s absolutely necessary.  Because tattoos were banned in Japan for several time throughout history, Yakuza always stop their tattoos at the ankle, wrist and neck as their ancestors did, so the tattoo can easily be hidden by their clothing.

The Yakuza’s tattooing method is not a modern one, they use a method called “horimono” it’s done manually by hand with a stick with needles at the end usually in a bundle. Most Yakuza have full body tattoos that are hand-poked, instead of using electric needles. This method is very painful, time consuming, and expensive. Since full sleeve tattoos and full body tattoos are trends that the yakuza is known for, it can actually take years to finish using this method and can cost up to fifty thousand dollars.

It’s common within Yakuza circles to tattoo themselves. Their tattoos can depict their clan’s crest.



Popular designs for horimono as showen above can include, dragons, tigers, koi fish, plants, gods, geisha, samurai, and many more.

Though many of today’s Yakuza gang factions are patriarchal in nature, women are integral parts of Japan’s gangland society. Wives, mistresses and girlfriends of top Yakuza figures often undergo extensive tattooing. These women sometimes use tattoos to demonstrate their affiliations with the gang lifestyle, or in some cases it’s meant to show loyalty and obedience to the Yakuza member they are involved with.

The most well known and prominently tattooed woman in ties with the Yakuza is Shoko Tendo. Author of the best-selling book “Yakuza Moon: Memoirs of a Gangster’s Daughter”, Tendo is tattooed in traditional Yakuza style using traditional Japanese motifs and brilliant colors.

The book is the shocking, yet intensely moving  autobiography of 37-year-old Tendo, who grew up the daughter of a yakuza boss. This lecture caught attention to the Yakuza customs, history and tattooing tradition, intriguing a lot of people towards this matter.


Memorial tattoos

Written by Rocky Geneva on . Posted in blog

  When someone close to us passes away we go trough a painful experience, and most of the times we are filled with the desire to memorialize that person in a way meant to be permanent. In my opinion a tattoo is a great way to honor someone whom we have lost, and also relieve our own emotional pain. In recent studies, memorial tattoos have been shown to overwhelmingly turn grief into joy and morning into celebration by creating a lasting memory.

A good idea is to wait until you have given enough time to grieve and mourn the loved one before making any decision about getting a tattoo. Making a permanent decision when emotions are especially that high is not a good idea.

A memorial tattoo should reflect the personality and interests of the person that has passed, but it also has to be something you would wear on your skin proud. When creating a memorial tattoo, first think about the person as an individual, perhaps their hobbies and interests. Think of how that person affected your life personally, something in particular that bonded you together. These things all conjure up images that could be included in a tattoo design.

When memorializing a child too young to have developed interests or a personality, there may not be any particular images that could be used in a tattoo design. So in this case a portrait may be appropriate, if the tattoo doesn’t cause feelings of sorrow. Images of angels, halos and angel wings also tend to be chosen in this case.

Getting a memorial tattoo for someone you didn’t really know, like a fallen soldier or something to symbolize the many lives lost in a tragedy, it presents a special challenge. Thinking of a way to make this tattoo a honorable way to remember the people who past is necessary, think about what best depicts that incident in a positive light.

Memorial tattoos present endless possibilities when it comes to remembering a person, but the most popular can be grouped into several general categories.

Names and dates are pretty much the most direct way of honoring a loved one who has passed away. Either is a small piece including the first name, nickname or a full back piece with first name, middle name, last name, date of birth, date of death and an accompaying quote and meaningful image, this type of memorial tattoo is and will always be very popular.

Hearts are usually used when losing someone we love. When your heart is breaking and even though time has passed and the wound begins to heal, a part of it feels like it’s still  missing, a hallow remains. Perhaps that is why so many people opt for a simple or elaborate heart tattoo as a memorial, to fill with ink something that can’t be undone.

Winged hearts are a variation of the standard heart tattoo. I guess it combines the elements of love and angels or heaven. Depending on personal religious beliefs, this tattoo can represent that the person being honored earned his wings and became an angel, or it could also mean that love is the only thing that gives you wings, or that love lifts you up.

Portraits, getting one is a very moving and emotional experience, in the case of memorial tattoos the emotional experience is doubled by honoring a loved one. Portrait tattoos are quite complex, and require the patience and dedication of a experienced tattoo artist who pays attention to detail and your emotional state.

Religious memorial tattoos can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Probably the most common is the cross or crucifix, with or without the loved one’s name or birth/death dates. Praying hands clutching a rosary are very popular with those of Catholic faith. Angels are usually depicted looking down from heaven and smiling, or hugging a tombstone or praying over it.

R.I.P. tattoos are simply stated the oldest sentiment in the book, which stands for Rest in Peace. After all our greatest hope is that our loved ones who suffered through sickness, heartache, or depression, are now in a place where they can hurt no longer, resting peacefully.

Although this is one of these unique occasions when the heart’s decision should rule when selecting a design, give it enough time. Be sure to make the right decision for you and for the memory of the one you lost. Whatever design you come up with, you have to live with it for the rest of your life. But if you’ve taken the time to honor the person aptly, the tattoo should bring up great memories and honor for those who have passed, until you leave this world yourself.




Swallow tattoos

Written by Rocky Geneva on . Posted in blog

  Tattoos featuring birds, typically swallows, are an old school style of tattoo that is coming back into vogue.

The first known origins of the swallow tattoo date back to a ship named The Swallow. Seven crew members staged a mutiny and had a swallow tattooed on their chests to recognize each other. After this event, the swallow became the go-to design for showing off sailing skills. A swallow tattoo was traditionally tattooed on the chest for every five thousand nautical miles that sailor has traveled, so the more tattoos of a swallow the sailor had on his chest, the more experienced he was.

Of British origin in the early days of sailing, it was the image of a Barn Swallow, usually tattooed on the chest, hands or neck. It is also legend that if the sailor drowns, the swallows will carry their soul to heaven, representing freedom and hope.


Swallows have always had great meaning to sailors, because before modern navigation, birds were a sign that land was close at hand. They are a symbol of returning home safely.

The swallow is a bird that chooses a mate for life. Tattoos that include two swallows is often a symbol of soul mates joined together. Therefore, another meaning for a swallow tattoo is loyalty to family. Other meanings include a struggle that has been overcome, a victory gained, and a hardship survived. Swallow tattoos are rich in symbolism and usually mean something special to the specific owner of that piece of artwork.

Today, the symbol of the swallow can mean many different things. It is considered a staple of the “British Traditional” and “Sailor Jerry Collins” style tattooing.

Vintage swallow tattoos

Ex-Sailors of the British Royal Navy have a swallow tattoo on both hands above the thumbs as a symbol of a successful voyage.

Another coined term in the UK for the swallow tattoo on the hands is a symbolism of a prison sentence from an ex-con to the meaning of “done your bird, done your time”.

New school swallow tattoo with crown  Swallow tattoo with Steadfast banner Color swallow tattoo  Black and grey swallow tattoo

One kind of swallow tattoo is done in the old school style. Either black and grey or shaded with muted colors, these tattoos channel the style of sailor tattoos. There is often a banner with a message surrounding the bird to enhance the symbolism. Another style of bird tattoo is the new school style. This is more stylized and colorful than the old school style of tattooing. Bright colors, shading, and other accents including stars are included.

Either way bird tattoos are strong symbols. Due to the varied meanings of the tattoos, anyone can get a swallow tattoo and have personal meaning behind it.

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