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Check Out These Awesome Vintage Portraits of YAKUZA Tattoos

One of the most influential traditional tattoo styles is Irezumi—the full-body tattoos we’ve come to associate with members of Yakuza, the world’s oldest gang, founded in the very early 1600s. In the Edo period (1603-1867), Irezumi was an art form that the lower classes weren’t allowed to participate in, however, they continued to despite government bans. So the samurai elites tried a new approach to making tattoos undesirable: Bokkei, a policy of tattooing criminals. In 1872, Japan passed a total ban on any kind of tattooing, which pushed Irezumi into the underground. This is how a once elite art became inextricably tied to the Japanese underworld, although one could argue the underworld and the elite have more in common than not. Below is a gallery of vintage portraits of Yakuza members getting and wearing their traditional Irezumi.

Written By

Meghan MacRae grew up in Vancouver, Canada, but spent many years living in the remote woods. Living in the shadow of grizzly bears, cougars and the other predators of the wilderness taught her about the dark side of nature, and taught her to accept her place in nature's order as their prey. She is co-founder of CVLT Nation.

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