Samurai Tattoo Designs: A History Of War And Honor

Samurai were the warrior class of feudal Japan, known in the popular imagination for their great type of sword – the katana – as well as their natural armor and system of ideas. Samurai lived within a code of conduct called Bushido, which outlined ways in which honorable warriors should live (and, for that matter, die). Fearlessness, loyalty, and honor were prized as highly as martial arts skill, and the influence of Bushido has been carried into the modern age as a part of the philosophies of several Japanese martial arts styles.

What tattoo should you get
Samurai Tattoo
Samurai Tattoo

Why is Bushido so famous for people who choose samurai tattoos?

bushido tattoo
bushido tattoo

This warrior code was not, in practice, a strict set of specific rules, but more a general atmosphere of honorable morality that permeated samurai society despite their violent, dangerous lives. This is also in keeping with the samurai’s status as a higher social class. The ideal samurai was strong but honorable, fearless in the face of death, and a master of his practice.

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Those with samurai tattoos identify themselves as carrying on this tradition, possibly subscribing to the noble ideals that made this warrior class flourish for hundreds of years.

 

In traditional Japanese tattoo, samurai often appear as part of the full body, full back, or sleeve designs.

samurai japanese tattoo
samurai Japanese tattoo

They are often mixed with other conventional imagery, sometimes battling a human opponent or a mythical one, such as a dragon or tiger. They may be flanked by other traditional symbols as well, such as cherry blossoms, koi, waves, or lightning.

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Though samurai are often depicted in tattoos in a warlike atmosphere, fierce and decked out in armor with a katana, they’re not always – in traditional Japanese paintings, in fact, they’re just as often pictured in a peaceful moment as a heroic one. They may also use conventional weapons of war other than swords, like spears or bows.

Some designs are more informed by animation and video games than traditional images of samurai.

katana tattoo
katana tattoo

Samurai in these types of plans are still recognizable by their katana and the style of their dress, and some people prefer this style. In some cases, even the samurai’s traditional topknot (a feature of their hair worn as an essential status symbol) is dismissed. This more “unkempt” samurai is reminiscent of wandering ronin and masterless vagabond swordsmen, similar to the very famous Miyamoto Musashi.

The armor of the samurai is as iconic as their swords, and many designs feature heavily detailed full armor, down to the helmet, called a Kabuto. The crest on the top of a samurai’s helmet is significant, representing a family affiliation, spiritual idea, mythical beast, or animal.

You should read as well: Will it Hurt? The Evolution of Tattoos

women samurai tattoo
women samurai tattoo

Though women could not be samurai in feudal Japan, female warriors trained in the art of war (onna bugeisha) were not uncommon. In modern popular culture (especially anime and video games), that gender barrier is further broken down, though the resulting designs are often sexualized. “Samurai geisha” is also a relatively common representation of this warrior woman idea.

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Conclusion

Technical prowess in battle, honor, and absolute fearlessness in the face of destruction are hallmarks of the samurai ideals that live on today through art, writing, martial arts, and other cultural sources. Samurai tattoo designs offer individuals the chance to wear a piece of that history – as well as a reminder and sign of those ideals – on their bodies.

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Source of images: Reddit.com