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Japanese Samurai Tattoos: Ideas, Designs, and Meanings

Updated on February 11, 2017
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Richard Hale is a tattoo enthusiast who studies and researches tattoo symbolism, meanings, and history.

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Samurai tattoos are very popular in Japanese culture. Even though it is not a mainstream tattoo in America, it still has a following, especially among people who admire Japan. Their designs are very detailed and quite colorful. Though they come in a variety of sizes and styles, most designs are larger due to the detail in this tattoo.

They usually represent traits and attributes of the samurai. It often symbolizes strength and courage, along with a host of other meanings. The designs are quite stunning and perfect for sleeve tattoos, with various elements and symbols that can accompany their theme. Below, I'll give you its history along with its various meanings and design ideas.

Samurai Tattoo Meanings

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The samurai tattoo can represent a variety of different meanings. Since there are many variations, meanings can differ from one variation to the other. Remember, in the end, your tattoo symbolizes what you want it too. That being said, here are some of the traditional meanings they hold:

That being said, here are some of the traditional meanings they hold:

  • Masculinity
  • Courage
  • Bravery
  • Honor
  • Nobility
  • Self-Discipline
  • Frugality
  • Respect
  • To Serve
  • Warrior
  • Life
  • Death

Since the samurai practiced living every day like it was their last, your tattoo can symbolize the same thing. It can be there to remind you of how fragile life really is. It can remind you to live every moment like it was your last because none of us is sure of tomorrow. It may also be chosen by those who value the samurai and their culture. These tattoos have been around for many years in Japan—these tattoos were traditionally worn as full back, full body, or full sleeve tattoos.

Samurai Tattoo History

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When it comes to traditional Japanese tattoos, none may be more symbolic than the samurai tattoo. They have been a popular choice for many years in Japan. But with their rise in popularity in western cultures, they can now be found all over the world. In this day and age, they are worn by men and women alike. Traditionally, however, they symbolize masculinity. There are a variety of different ways they can be designed and they can hold a high symbolic value for those who wear such a tattoo.

The samurai have a rich history of traditions and values. Even today, they continue to be among the most decorated warriors of all time. The word "samurai" is derived from the word "saburau," which means "to serve." Another representation of this word is "to wait upon a person with upper ranks in society."

The Samurai Life

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Samurai were expected to live a certain way of life that represented honor, nobility, and service. The 13th century saw the rise of Zen Buddhism, and the samurai based their standards and conduct on this practice. Zen meditation became very important to the samurai. It was used to calm a samurai's mind. With this practice, samurai became disciplined in the art of war. Buddhism also led the samurai to eliminate needless killings as it showed them how to be reborn.

More than anything, they were known for their fighting abilities, particularly martial arts skills. With the influence of Buddhism, they were trained to be disciplined in their approach. With the new practice and their abilities, they became the ultimate warrior of their time. They followed the practice of "Bushido", which represented "the way of the warrior." They built their principles on courage, respect, honor, and self-discipline, valuing these principles in both life and death.

Zen Buddhism also taught the samurai to overcome the fear of killing and the fear of death. Because of this, they were expected to live a certain way of life. They learned to live every day like it was their last. They also learned to keep their lives in order and everything else in between. They would usually marry and have children to make sure that their social class would live on. After years and years of constant war, this helped keep their social class populated. If a samurai would marry, his wife would also become a member of his class, as would their children.

Samurai Tattoo Appearance

Since samurai tattoos are associated with the culture of Japan, they are often designed with various symbols of Japanese culture. Usually, they are portrayed with their katana, which is a specific type of sword. They are associated with the cherry blossom, which is actually a symbol of the Japanese samurai. Due to this, samurai tattoos often include cherry blossom flowers. There are several other symbols and elements that you can portray with your samurai, such as dragons, Geisha, koi, yin-yang, or tigers. They may also include Kanji, (Japanese writing using Chinese characters). They can be done in a variety of different sizes and inked nearly anywhere on the body. However, people most commonly choose to have them on their arms or back.

Your tattoo can also show the samurai in different postures. They can be portrayed with their katana in hand or they can be portrayed on a horse. They may be designed to look fearless or at peace. The different designs offer several different options for you to consider—make sure that you take the time to view all the different designs in this article and elsewhere. This will give you an idea of what is available, so you can gather tips and ideas for your own unique tattoo.

Before You Get a Tattoo

There are some very important things that you should remember before you get your Japanese samurai tattoo or any tattoo. Make sure that you take the time to research your tattoo. You want to make sure that you completely understand what your tattoo represents and stands for. Don't rush to get inked! Men and women who rush to get a tattoo on an impulse usually have regrets about their choice later on down the road. If you are not sure, give it more time. Make sure you get it right the first time around!

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    • thelyricwriter profile image
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      Richard Ricky Hale 4 years ago from West Virginia

      Max, thanks for taking the time to comment pal. Yeah, very interesting history on them. Can easily see why one would want to sport such a tattoo.

    • BeyondMax profile image

      BeyondMax 4 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Wow. Very interesting background and the images themselves are like an open book. Incredible, fascinating!

    • thelyricwriter profile image
      Author

      Richard Ricky Hale 4 years ago from West Virginia

      *Lightshare, thanks for taking the time to visit. I hope you enjoyed them and thanks again!

      *Rosemay, always great to hear from you:) Some are very detailed. Probably days and weeks worth of work on a few. I enjoy the history on them, always been into history. Appreciate you noticing, it means a lot! Take care Rosemay.

    • Rosemay50 profile image

      Rosemary Sadler 4 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

      Wow these are amzing. There is so much detail in them, surely it would take more than one 'sitting' to complete the intricate and detailed tats.

      I love the way you include the history, stories behind these tattoos.

      An awful lot of work has gone into this.

      Awesome Up and so much more

    • Lightshare profile image

      Lightshare 4 years ago

      Wouh!! Amazing picture collection and information shared.

    • thelyricwriter profile image
      Author

      Richard Ricky Hale 4 years ago from West Virginia

      Ruby, thanks for stopping by and for your comment. Yes, some of these are very detailed. Some probably take months to complete.

      Alocsin, thanks for dropping in. Yeah, this would be the way to go for a colorful, large tattoo. They look great on the back.

      Thanks to you both and take care.

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I don't think I've ever seen a samurai tattoo, which is certainly quite noticeable due to its size. If you're going to go big, put lots of color, as shown by several of your examples. Voting this Up and Beautiful.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 4 years ago from Southern Illinois

      My,some of these cover the entire back, must take a long time and has to be painful, but they too are beautiful..Thank you Ricky...

    • thelyricwriter profile image
      Author

      Richard Ricky Hale 4 years ago from West Virginia

      Nell

      Tammy

      Frank

      Klingonkorra

      Mhatter

      Pix

      Gyspy

      Aviannovice

      Thank you all for your visit, time, and comments:) It is very hard keeping up with you all:) I try my best, I really do. Nell, that is cool. As you probably know, movies and books really boosted the popularity of the samurai. Thanks for the share Nell!! Frank and Tammy, many thanks. The same is said for you both. Mhatter, I learned a little bit about Zula Zula during my research. To be honest, I remember anyone that I read. With these Japanese words and names, they slip me. I hate that, but what can you do. Gypsy, Pix, Aviannovice, thanks again. All of you make the Hubpage community.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      These lovely works of art are remarkable.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 4 years ago from Riga, Latvia

      Crazy, fantastic and colorful tattoos.

    • profile image

      pinxinsales004 4 years ago

      awesome

      awesome

      www.ledpxgd.com

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      just wondering if you ever heard of Zulu Zulu

    • Klingonkorra profile image

      Klingonkorra 4 years ago

      I have 5 tattoos, and am looking to get some more i´m a warrior of love and light, what kind of samurai is that?

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 4 years ago from Shelton

      Thelyricwriter I don't think I could ever get enough of your tattoo teachings and designs Voted awesome

    • tammyswallow profile image

      Tammy 4 years ago from North Carolina

      These are epic Lyricwriter! I bet these are popular with all the young people that love animae. Excellent as always!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

      Hi lyric, now these are super cool! I love the Samurai traditions and watch all the films, I think I got hooked on them when the tv program Shogun was on back in the seventies! lol! and of course the updated version with Tom Cruise, which wasn't so good, but watchable, these are great, and your photos will certainly help someone pick the right choice, interesting info too, voted up and shared, nell

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