The spectacular and sometimes nearly full-coverage tattoo known as the “body suit” originated sometime around 1700 as a reaction to strict laws concerning conspicuous displays of wealth and perhaps also as an emulation of the fireman's suit or firemen's tattoos (since firemen of Edo were some of the first tattoo clients to embrace the new era of tattooing). Because only the nobility were allowed to wear fine clothing, the middle class person who wanted to adorn themselves sometimes chose a tattoo. The idea of the full body tattoo may derive from the samuraith century and the beginning of the 19th, an illustrated work of fiction imported from China created both unprecedented inspiration and desire for tattoos. The SuikodenThe Water Margin) was a Robin Hood type of tale that recounted the exploits of 108 heroes, many of whom were tattooed. It was a tale that resonated with the repressed classes of the period but it was not until woodblock prints of the heroes were illustrated by Utagawa Kuniyoshi and published in the early to mid-19th century that its popularity exploded. The images were extremely influential in the world of tattoo design and these original prints continue in use to this day.
Not all traditional Japanese tattooing takes the form of the body suit, however. Coverage for various different regions of the body had also become codified. The chest panels, or hikae, in this photo are a classic placement, often blending from the chest, through the shoulder, and into a sleeve that might be long (ending at the wrist, nagasode), seven tenths (ending mid-forearm, shichibu), or five tenths (ending above the elbow, gobu).
Greg is tattooing the right hikae, with the central design element of a tiger. In the Far East, the tiger is considered the king of all animals. Its distinctly striped coloration, alternating black and orange, with white in the face and underbelly, makes it a fascinating subject for tattoo design, one that is often done in full color. In the Chinese zodiac, it is the third sign and people born in the year of the tiger are as mercurial as their symbol: short-tempered and yet capable of great sympathy, prone to be suspicious but also full of courage and power. In Chinese mythology, it is sometimes considered the opposite of the dragon.
In the left hikae, already done, the central design element is a rooster. In the Chinese zodiac, people born in the year of the rooster are considered deep thinkers and loners, whose emotions can swing from high to low. With its sometimes flowing and arching tail feathers and its red-colored head comb, Buddhists have associated it with pride and passion while Japanese Shintoists show it on a drum as a call to prayer. warriors’ sleeveless campaign coat, which typically displayed heroic designs on the back, symbols of courage and pride, or perhaps a guardian deity or dragon. Similarly, tattoo designs began on the back and gradually extended to the shoulders, arms, thighs, and eventually the entire body. Tattooing over the entire front of the upper part of the torso with the exception of a vertical strip running from the chest to the abdomen, gave the effect of an unbuttoned vest. The development of the body suit, though, also coincided with the popularity of fictional tattooed heroes. At the end of the 18 (translated as