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Images within a samurai-inspired design can range from a single symbol to full-color, elaborate fighting scenes. To many, these samurai tattoos symbolize strength and courage, victory over adversity, and freedom of spirit.
Large areas such as the back or the thigh are ideal areas for large renderings of samurai fighting scenes. But smaller symbols, such as the mask or calligraphic symbols can be placed anywhere, in any color.
The Samurai Warrior
The history of the samurai warrior is steeped in history dating back to the 10th century. Considered to be military elite, samurai initially served the Japanese Emperor and nobility but eventually grew in numbers to form their own branch of government.
Samurai warrior tattoos are often depicted in fighting scenes wearing full-fledged armor. Traditional armor, or "yoroi", consisted of lacquered strips of individual scales made of iron or leather bound together to create protective chest plates.
Other renderings include warriors clothed in traditional, long-flowing, ankle-length robes. The helmet, or "kabuto", was often emblazoned with images of suns, moons, and stars. Samurais believed that celestial beings were instrumental in assisting warriors in battle. Samurai helmets often featured horns or spears meant to intimidate opponents.
Sampurais prided themselves on upholding a moral code named "Bushido", which means "Way of the Warrior".
The Bushido code consisted of the following elements:
- Rectitude - acting within the boundaries of righteousness and morality - always behaving with the utmost integrity.
- Courage - not to be confused with bravery, samurai courage means doing the right thing, regardless of how difficult or improbable.
- Benevolence - the act of showing kindness and compassion to everyone, equally, regardless of one's station.
- Respect - displaying dignity by treating all with courtesy and gratitude.
- Honesty - earning faith and trust by acting with truth, and sincerity.
- Honor - being held worthy of honor by always upholding the reputation of the warrior.
- Loyalty - having qualities of fidelity and obedience.
The tenets of Bushido are often expressed in ink through single Japanese characters that represent the word for each tenet. Characters may be singular or grouped as part of a larger design.
Tattoos often feature variations of the Japanese fighting sword known as the katana. The katana features a long, slender, single-edged curved blade with a long hilt that can accommodate a two-handed grip. The long blade allowed for long-range hand to hand fighting and was the signature weapon of the samurai.
Mask of Terror
Tattoos often feature renditions of traditional samurai masks. Originally, the masks featured faces with terrorizing, intimidating expressions. The masks served several purposes:they protected the identity of the warrior and hid the emotions of the fighter. Samurai masks can serve as stand-alone designs or can be incorporated into a larger, more elaborate design.
Samurai tattoos are often rendered in the traditional Japanese tattoo style made popular during the Edo period (1600-1868 AD). Tattoos of that era reflected the colorful woodblock illustrations of the popular epic Chinese novel, "Suikoden" which featured scenes of brave and heroic warriors in the midst of battle.
In addition to the traditional images of the mask, the katana, and the warrior, large samurai tattoos can also feature other prominent symbols in Japanese culture such as:
- The Dragon - A representative of the four elements - earth, air, fire, and water. The dragon can represent courage, spirit, strength, and freedom. Typically, the wingless eastern dragon is used and is often rendered holding a pearl of power and wisdom in one claw.
- The Koi Fish - A symbol of perseverance over adversity and victory over obstacles. According to legend, the koi fish persistently swims upstream and is rewarded for its efforts by transforming into a dragon once it swims through the waterfall.
- The Geisha - A symbol of the epitome of all that is feminine, graceful, and lovely. The Geisha is the ultimate feminine to the samurai's ultimate masculine, representing the gentility and beauty that balances the samurai warrior's strength and fierceness.
Some more samurai flash and photos: