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Rosca 1 Pain for Pride Many cultures have traditions that are passed down through generations “there

is no culture in which people do not, or did not paint, pierce, tattoo, reshape or simply adorn their bodies” (Schildkrout 107). Japanese underworld subculture is known for its spectacular full body tattooing: Horimono. Horimono, [hori or horu is “to incise” or “to dig”] dates back to the Edo period, around 18th century; which has marvelously evolved into different connotations, until now. Horimono is a word that represents great talent and beauty; therefore, it is interesting how the word contradicts itself. Horimono’s shameful stigma and “suit” of pride are admired masterpieces worn by the most terrifying and darkest individuals of Japanese society, and its agonizing masterpieces cannot be exposed to the world. During the Edo period, Japanese tattoos became a part of ukiyo-e (the suspended world culture). Prostitutes used tattoos to improve their individual aesthetics for customers; tattoos were also used by laborers and fireman. Through time tattoos became a punishment for criminals: “tattoos have long been symbols of shame and disgrace” (“Japanese”). Criminals were branded with tattoos that characterized their crime, either around the arm or forehead for every offense, becoming the outlaws of society. These outlaws were ronin (master less samurai warriors), who created the start of the yakuza, currently known as one of the most fearful criminal organizations. It is believed “gang members tried to cover up their past ink by adding more and more tattoos until the entire bodies were covered with colorful art” (“Yakuza”), a shameful mark that nowadays Yakuza members transformed into a mark of pride. Members of yakuza consider themselves the “robin-hoods” of society and take pride in their reputation. For example in

Rosca 2 the documentary by National Geographic, a yakuza member stated: “People like myself wear the tattoos to separate ourselves from society it’s a matter of pride that we understood the pain” (“Japanese”). Unfortunately, society fears them the most; when someone sees a person with tattoos, usually flee, proving that tattoos became a trademark for yakuza. Horimono is an agonizing luxury that cannot be afforded and/or handled by anyone: “Tattoos can signify bravery and commitment to a long, painful process” (“Schildkrout”), once started it must be completed. In this traditional Japanese tattooing the masters use a process known as tebori (tattooing by hand), which “the ink brush is made [up] of two dozen needles and the canvas is [the] human flesh” (“Full”). The reason masters use tebori is because it is the only method where colors remain intact. Also it gives the master a chance to make his or her own tools and ink. Hundreds and hundreds of hours are needed to complete horimono; therefore, one must be very strong “to get your whole body tattooed you need endurance it hurts and you agreed and there is no turn back” (“Death”). The only parts of the body that are not covered in ink are the hands, the feet and the face. Horimono is considered a masterpiece because the work is done carefully, slowly, agonizing and meaningful. These masterpieces are based on Japan’s history, symbols and each “suit” has an inked samurai. In order to complete these masterpieces, masters spend time with their client to understand his personality and character, making each suit unique and original. Each line or symbol expresses the costumer’s personality and carries sacred symbols that have powerful meanings in Japanese history/tradition. Many of these beautiful masterpieces have an endless life. It is said that “body suits have been removed from their owners after death, even more

Rosca 3 disturbing they have reportedly been traded [in] the black market” (“Yakuza”). One can view a few of these “suits” at Tokyo University; “Rumors persists that collectors still buy tattooed human skin even though the practice is illegal” (“Yakuza”). Horimono masterpieces seem to be the new trend. Leading some people to barbaric actions, of removing the tattooed skin of dead bodies, and displaying them as art. Expensive masterpieces “can cost tens of thousands of dollars and a life time of suffering to complete... But for all that’s endured to get one, these tattoos are usually hidden” (Full) during the person’s lifetime, until they are displayed after death. Tattoos are still taboo in Japan “because showing can identify you as one of the most notorious and feared members of Japanese society” (“Full”). People look at tattoos, and no matter how beautiful they are “when Japanese people see tattoos they think yakuza, yakuza equals tattoo people” (“Death”). Usually tattooed people are not welcomed in public places, unless covered; for example, if you are at the beach, public bath etc., you better have a long sleeve shirt on and pants or a clerk will tell you to go away. Horimono is a beauteous painful art, loved and feared at the same time. Its stigma puts fear in the Japanese society. Although Horioki, a Japanese tattoo artist, is trying to remove its stigma through a monthly gathering of tattooed people, karaoke and Japanese traditions, tattoos still remain taboo in Japan. Even if you leave the “family,” “the only way to leave yakuza is to cut your finger” (“Death”). Since Yakuza members cannot escape their body, Horimono mark remains with them until death.

Rosca 4 Works Cited “Full Body Tattoos”. National Geographic. Web. 9 March 2013. “The Japanese Tattoo (Horimono)”. YouTube. National Geographic, 1 November 2007. Web. 7 March 2013. “Marked Death of Yakuza (Full Documentary)”. YouTube. History, 20 January 2013. 12 March 2013. Schildkrout, Enid. “Body Art as Visual Language.” One World, Many Cultures. Stuart and Terry Hirschberg. New York: Pearson-Longman, 2012. 93-99. Print. “Yakuza’s Tattoos”. YouTube. History, 3 November 2011. Web. 10 March 2013.

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