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Japanese word for men and women with tattoos which means "insertion of ink." Tattooing has a sordid history in Japan. For many centuries only people of low social standing such as gravediggers, criminals and prostitutes had them. It wasn't until the 17th Century that tattoos were embraced as an art form, despite laws that attempted to ban them. By the 18th Century the yakuza and other rowdy types began sporting full body art.

Japanese tattoos frequently contain images of crashing waves, autumn leaves, fish, and flames. The old school technique (rarely practiced today) involved the insertion of up to 10 ink-tipped at one time. Full body art could take as long as a year to complete.

Even today tattooing is frowned upon and Irezumi are considered part of the criminal underworld. To disguise the markings some will usually keep the strip of skin down the middle of their chest and their forearms tattoo free, so they can wear open shirts or short sleeves undetected.

There are many special types of irezumi, and highly stylized artistic styles. There are a few recognized masters of this art, and they are relatively unknown due to the still-existent "taboo" on the art within Nipponese society.

My particular favourite is one called 'the river', where the tattoos stop at the neck, the upper arm, and the upper thighs; there is an open strip of skin down the chest, so when a man is wearing a short kimono none of the body tattoo will be visible. (this is one of the lesser full body types.)

The most painful area to tattoo in this art form is the penis. the irezumi master mixes small amounts of cocaine in the ink (or at least traditionally), and typically only a square inch can be done at a time before the tattooee passes out from the pain.

I highly suggest looking for books at your local library, there are some wonderful ones out there on the topic which I can't recall at this time.

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