The intimate relationship of Japanese tattooing with the dark world of the yakuza has helped cover this form of artistic expression with an aura of mystery. But the culture of irezumi is deep and rich in meanings, shapes and motifs that have gone from color woodblock prints to being applied to the skin to beautify and protect their bearers. This richly illustrated book reveals the meaning and the secrets behind the most significant motifs from traditional Japanese tattooing--such as mythological and supernatural creatures, animals, Buddhist deities, flowers and historical characters--and turns this art form into a path toward personal knowledge and individual expression. Readers will discover the origin and meaning of each visual representation of the most frequent themes in this art form. The publication begins with a brief review of the history of Japanese tattoo art and then examines each subject (water, mythological animals, real animals, mythological characters, historical characters, flowers, shunga and yokai) through images and descriptive texts; it also includes a gallery of original designs by the author and a glossary.