Irezumi (入れ墨, lit. "inserting ink") are traditional Japanese tattoos. Irezumi is the Japanese word for tattoo, and Japanese tattooing has had its own distinct style created over centuries. Irezumi is done by hand, using wooden handles and metal needles attached via silk thread. This method also requires special ink called Nara ink (zumi). It is a painful and time consuming process, done by a limited number of specialists. The tattoo artist is called a Brother, and usually has one or more apprentices working for him for a long period of time. They often become a part of the horishis tattoo family. Irezumi was initially associated with firemen, who wore them as a form of spiritual protection. They were admired figures of bravery and roguish sex-appeal, which inspired imitation. At the beginning of the Meiji period the Japanese government outlawed tattoos, and Irezumi took on connotations of criminality. Many yakuza and other criminals now avoid tattoos for this very reason.
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