A traditional Japanese tattoo is instantly recognizable on sight because it is unique and striking. Often times the explanation of their design revolves around two main points of discourse: religion and the mysterious Yakuza mafia groups, which are prevalent in this modern society and whose traditional roots are deeply imbedded in the everyday lives of its citizens. Tattoos have been frowned upon by polite Japanese society, but this shouldn't be an impediment to dig into the horimono tradition and why this intricate artistry has endured after many centuries.
Horimono tattoos were done with marks and symbolism, rather than imagery. Beauty was an afterthought, and their designs were filled with political and aesthetic motifs. It is widely known that the authorities forcibly tattooed criminals, and the symbols etched on their faces or limbs set them apart from the rest. A stigma impossible to erase and the symbols seared on their flesh reflected their primitiveness and barbarism. Despite the heavily loaded social connotations, the horimono flourished among common people during the Edo period, and suddenly, these painful symbols acquired magical and aesthetic qualities that hid away the shameful past of these criminals.
These full-bodied compositions were inspired by the woodblock prints of the period, and this intricate art form became deeply woven into the culture of the people. Those who had been marked by authorities found a respite and a way to "erase" the stigma by covering them up with beautiful designs that were both aesthetic and meaningful. The yakuza embraced this discipline, and the majority of the designs paid homage to the folklore, religions, and traditions of the bygone Shogun era. Compositions of this magnitude imply years of pain, patience, and time.
Tattoo artist, Monta Morino has stepped away from these stereotypes and discourse of horimono belonging exclusively to the criminal underworld. He has appropriated the designs and transformed them according to his own aesthetic principles. He respects the colors, characters, historical situations, and most importantly, the fact that these monumental designs become an extension of the human body.
While his visual aesthetics are highly attractive and fascinating for those who admire the Japanese culture, one must think twice before deciding to bear such designs. To this day, Japanese law and social customs dictate that these designs must be hidden away from society. The grip the Yakuza has over Japan has not ceased entirely, for they're still heavily involved in prostitution, drug trafficking, and gambling. However, those who bear these designs are not necessarily involved in the mafia; in fact laborers, merchants, firemen, and manufacturers once proudly wore their tattoos.
Monta embraces the millenary concepts of the horimono and is constantly inspired by traditional art, Kabuki theater, and well-known legends such as the Scarlet Edo Princess and countless other historical figures. This beautiful art form has endured the rejection of society and will continue to endure as long as mankind is drawn to the stunning fantastical and natural worlds.