Expressing Identity: Irezumi Suits as Personalised Artwear

Japan has a unique style of tattoos that come in body suits. They are collectively called Irezumi, which loosely translates to ‘body ink.’

Since its inception in the 5th century, Irezumi has evolved significantly. It encompasses multiple styles, including colourful mythological creatures, monsters, and even nature motifs. All these are different methods of expressing individual identities.

That said, Irezumi suits are the ultimate expression of Japan’s tattoo culture. As the name suggests, they cover the skin, just like clothes.

The Origin of Irezumi Suits

Due to Confucian teaching that tattoos and other body modifications were acts of disrespect towards parents, the ruling class was against the Irezumi. Regardless, the unique charm of Irezumi suits made them so famous that the Samurai outlawed them. However, this law was too difficult to enforce, and people continued getting tattooed.

Irezumi suits had simple designs before evolving into the intricate pieces they are today. The first significant developments in their design occurred during the Edo period (from 1608 to 1868) when Japan was enjoying stability after emerging from the chaotic Sengoku period.

During the Edo period, Irezumi suits also started signifying symbolic protection. People who wore the body suits left the area between the elbow and the armpits untattooed. This showed the tattoos were a decoration rather than a sign of punishment.

In the past, men got full-body suits, while ladies wore tattoos mostly on their backs. Nowadays, both genders wear full-body suits.

Popular Styles of Irezumi Suits

Here are the most popular styles of Irezumi suits.

Soushinbori (Donburi)

Soushinbori refers to a full-body suit. It starts at the wrist to the neck and then runs the entire body length to the ankles. The only untattooed parts are your feet, hands, and head.

Soushinbori tattoos are also called Donburi because they resemble the porcelain bowls used to serve rice. Donburi bowls usually feature elaborate designs and patterns everywhere except the top and the bottom.


Munewari is a split-chest Irezumi suit. It covers the arms, chest, back, and legs. However, the tattooist leaves an untattooed line running down the middle of the chest and the back, a style inspired by traditional Japanese work outfits.


If you want a giant Irezumi suit that isn’t the Soushinbori, opt for the Senaka. It runs across the entire backside of the body, including the back, buttocks, thighs, and legs. Senaka tattoos often have intricate designs because the back offers a large surface area for complex artwork.


Nagasode tattoos are inspired by long-sleeved shirts and run from the shoulder joint to the wrists. These tattoos are available in two iterations: Kubu, which ends at the wrist, and Tobu, which goes beyond the wrist.


Hikae tattoos cover the arms, shoulders, and chest. Deep Hikae extends over the chests, with the ink surrounding the nipples. Contrarily, shallow Hikae doesn’t go that far.


Kame-no-Kou suits loosely translate to a ‘tortoise shell.’ This is because they cover the back, such that the wearer appears to be covered by a shell.


Shichibusode tattoos run from the shoulder to just beyond the elbow, creating the impression of a rolled-up long-sleeved shirt.


Gobusode tattoos start at the shoulder and end just before the elbow, drawing inspiration from short-sleeved shirts.

Final Words

Over the years, there have been mixed perceptions about the Irezumi. When the Japanese rulers banned them in the late 1800s, the Yakuza kept the culture alive. As such, tattoos became associated with barbarism and criminality.

However, modern Irezumi suits are nothing but an expression of creativity. Besides, they also depict potent messages.

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