Irezumi Bunshin Traditional Japanese Tattoo

Irezumi (入れ墨, 入墨, 紋身, 刺花, 剳青, 黥 or 刺青) is a Japanese word that refers to the insertion of ink under the skin to leave a permanent, usually decorative mark; a form of tattooing. The word can be written in several ways, each with slightly different connotations. The most common way of writing irezumi is with the Chinese characters 入れ墨 or 入墨, literally meaning to “insert ink”.

Bunshin (紋身) suggest “decorating the body”. 剳青 is more esoteric, being written with the characters for “stay” or “remain” and “blue” or “green”, and probably refers to the appearance of the main shading ink under the skin. 黥 (meaning “tattooing”) is rarely used, and the characters 刺青 combine the meanings “pierce”, “stab”, or “prick”, and “blue” or “green”, referring to the traditional Japanese method of tattooing by hand.

Common images in traditional Japanese tattoos

Mythological beasts and monsters: DragonsKirinBakuFoo Dogs, Hō-ō (鳳凰, Phoenixes)
Animals: Birds, Koi (Carp), TigersSnakes
Flowers: PeoniesCherry BlossomsLotusesChrysanthemums
Other plants: BambooMaple leaves
Characters from traditional folklore and literature, such as the Suikoden
Images of the “Floating World” inspired by ukiyo-e prints: geishasamurai
Buddhas and Buddhist deities such as Fudō Myō-ō and Kannon
Shinto kami (deities) such as tengu
Backgrounds: clouds, waves, wind bars

Japanese tattoo terms

Irezumi (入れ墨, 入墨, 文身 (also pronounced bunshin), 剳青, 黥 or 刺青): tattoo (noun or verb)
Horimono (彫り物, 彫物, literally carving, engraving): tattoo. This is another word for traditional Japanese tattoos
Horishi (彫り師, 彫物師): a tattoo artist
Bokukei, bokkei (墨刑): punishment by tattooing
Tebori (手彫り, literally to carve by hand): describes the technique of tattooing by hand
Hanebori (羽彫り, literally to carve with a feather): a hand-tattooing technique employing a feathering motion
Tsuki-bori (突き彫り): a hand-tattooing technique employing a thrusting motion
Kakushibori (隠し彫り, literally hidden carving): tattooing near the armpits, the inside of the thighs and other “hidden” body areas. Also refers to the tattooing of hidden words, for example among the petals of flowers
Kebori (毛彫り): the tattooing of fine lines or of hair on tattooed figures
Sujibori (筋彫り): outlining, the outline of a tattoo
Shakki: the sound needles make when they puncture the skin
Irebokuro (入れ黒子): from ire or ireru, which means to insert, and bokuro or hokuro, a beauty spot
Yobori: “Yo” (European) tattooing. The Japanese-English slang term for tattooing done with the machine
Sumi (墨): The ink used to tattoo, traditionally mixed by the apprentice
Hikae: Chest panel tattoo
Nagasode (長袖): Arm tattoo, to the wrist
Shichibu (七分): Tattoo 7/10ths of the sleeve to the forearm
Gobu (五分): Tattoo 5/10ths of the sleeve to above the elbow