The concept of Japanese tattooing can actually be dated back further than 3000 BC in which there have been various clay statues found to bear tattoos on their bodies. While in general when Japanese tattooing was first around, there was no concept of just a simple and single tattoo, but rather the entire body would be tattooed. The term in Japanese to describe this form of tattoo is irezumi. Throughout Asia, tattooing has been very important and there are several terms associated with this art form in practically every Asian language, but they all mean basically the same thing. They all mean to insert ink under the skin in such a way to leave a permanent and decorative mark. In Japan, although only clay statues remain to depict these tattoos, the history of the Japanes tattoo can date back as far as 10000 BC. This places the Japanese tattooing as old as the Paleolithic era Later these tattoos would be found on a person’s body as a means of noting their social status or religious influences.
Tattoing was considered a normal part of Japanese society until the Kofun period which ran from 300 to 600 AD when it started receiving a negative connotation. Previously the tattoo was used to designate spiritual influences as well as social status, but after this period in Japanese history, the tattoo would be used as a mark to distinguish criminals. All the way up until the Edo period which fell between 1600 and 1868 AD, the Japanese tattoos would undergo many positive and negative changes. On the positive side they would be considered a form of social status or religious belief, while on the negative side, due to the Kofun period, criminals would also start to use the tattoo for their own purposes.
It was not until the Meiji period in Japanese history that the tattooing became a fully criminal based art form. During this time period, the Japanese government wanted to make a good impression on westernized society and outlawed it completely. This gave way to the concept of irezumi and its use in the criminal underworld of Japan. It became such a big issue that people who had full body tattoos were not allowed into public baths in an attempt to keep the Japanese Mafia, or the Yakuza as they are called out of their businesses. Even today this is still practiced in many baths, hot springs and fitness clubs. Today, the old art form of the full body Japanese tattoos is becoming more and more popular. While some people prefer just the standard single tattoo based on Japanese letters, others go all out and have a traditional tattoo made through the course of many years of visits to the tattoo parlor. Maybe some day the times will change and those with full body tattoos will be able to come and go as they please in bat, hot springs and fitness establishments in Japan, but that may be a while.