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Tattooing was used for decorative purposes by the people of ancient Japan for centuries before falling out of favor in the seventh century as rulers adopted the Chinese custom of using tattoos as criminal punishment.

For a millennium, tattooed individuals were labeled as outcasts, their markings — usually on the face or arms — evidence of past transgressions.

Punitive tattooing eventually fell out of favor, but tattoos remained associated with criminality even as decorative and pictorial tattooing began a resurgence.

In 1805, a Japanese translation of the Chinese novel Suikoden was released. It was illustrated with lavish color woodblock prints of its heroes, who were tattooed with elaborate motifs of flowers, animals and mythical figures. The novel was tremendously popular, and spurred a demand for similar tattoos. Read more…

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The beautiful and complicated history of Japanese tattoos