Thursday, April 4, 2019

"Tattoo" in Japanese

There are various ways to say "tattoo" in Japanese. The one you want is probably tatwuu タトゥー. The traditional Japanese ones are called irezumi 入れ墨.


The word tatwuu タトゥー, a katakanization of the English word "tattoo," is the western fashion kind of tattoo.

Anime: Black Lagoon (Episode 2)
  • Revy has a "tribal," toraibaru トライバル, tattoo.

Note: for the "womb tattoo" adult meme, see: inmon 淫紋.


The word irezumi 入れ墨, literally "inserting ink," from ireru 入れる, "to put in," and sumi 墨, "ink," s turning z because of rendaku, is a traditional Japanese tattoo. (not to be confused with the semordnilap sumiire 墨入れ, which means "ink bottle" or "inking [something].")

The verb "to tattoo" is in fact the verb to put in:
  • ireru 入れる
    To put in [the ink].
    • To ink in. To tattoo.
  • tatwuu wo ireru タトゥーを入れる
    To put in a tattoo. To ink in a tattoo. To tattoo a tattoo.
  • tatwuu wo kesu タトゥーを消す
    To erase a tattoo. To remove a tattoo.

Generally speaking, irezumi is associated with the Yakuza, a crime syndicate, because its criminal members had such tattoos on their bodies.

While the western tattoos can often be a small thing drawn on some body part, the Yakuza-style tattoos often cover a person's whole back, arms, and even chest. Some of them are full-body tattoos.

Anime: Inuyashiki いぬやしき (Episode 4)

Historically, during the Edo period (1603–1868), irezumi 入れ墨, also spelled irezumi 入墨, without okurigana, referred to the tattoos tattooed to criminals' faces or arms, which marked that they had been found guilty of their crimes.

In the Meiji period, the spelling irezumi 刺青 also started being used. This ateji came from the title of the short story Shisei 刺青, by novelist Tanizaki Jun'ichirō 谷崎潤一郎, published in 1910. The English title is "The Tattooer," so you can guess what were the contents of the story.

Today, shiseishi 刺青師 means a "tattooer," by the way. Just like renkinjutsushi 錬金術師 means an "alchemist."

Further in the past, the term gei 黥 used to refer to a tattoo on someone's face, while bunshin 文身 referred to a tattoo on their body.

Another term that meant "tattoo" was horimono 彫り物, literally "carving/engraving thing," in the same sense tabemono 食べ物, "food," is literally "eating thing."

Further Reading

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