The connection between yakuza and tattoos, continuing to this day
In Japan, the culture of tattooing first began about 500 years ago. Edo-period firefighters and gamblers would have their skin engraved with captivating designs to show their stylish spirits. Eventually this culture was adopted by the yakuza world, who used it to show their chivalrous souls. By having a design engraved into their bodies that could not easily be removed, the men showed proof of their lifelong devotion to the way of the yakuza.
These days, tattoos have come to symbolise yakuza. Sometimes they are viewed as decorations for the purpose of nothing more than scaring normal people and acting brave. However, the original meaning behind the tattoos was supposed to be a symbol of men trying to display their honourable souls.
Captivating tattoos designed by Horitomo
The tattoos featured in Ryu ga Gotoku were designed by Horitomo, an actual tattoo artist. Despite being known as a master in the American tattooing world, he continues pursuing the beauty of traditional Japanese tattoos. The artistic works never cease to charm and fascinate people.
Having received Nagoshi and Kikuchi's request, Horitomo asked about each character's personality and body type, as well as the story, and began to submit ideas. Their motifs, such as a dragon, carp, Fujin and Nyorai, all have their own hidden story and meaning. According to Horitomo's suggestions and advice, themes that would best suit each character with their own destiny were settled upon and designed.
As part of his job, Horitomo carves the tattoos into the CG skin. This previously unheard of test is what breathed life into the chivalrous souls of the yakuza living in Kamurocho.
The destinies hidden within the tattoos' designs
Kazuma Kiryu's tattoo is of Oryu. Along with the Kirin, Ho-Oh and Reiki, it is one of the noble beast kings that make up the Four Benevolent Animals. Nishikiyama's tattoo was inspired by the anecdote of a carp trying to jump through the Dragon's Gate. The carp is designed around a combination of Nishikiyama's inferiority complex towards Kiryu, and the way he tries to reach the top. Majima's tattoo is of a Hannya and an albino snake. The Hannya is the mask of a female demon, and represents profound jealousy and tenacity. Its combination with the white snake, messenger of the gods, is a unique one. The tattoo of Saejima, who is a player character in RGG4, is a fearsome tiger. Whilst the dragon is a beast that rules the heavens, the tiger is a beast that rules the earth. It is designed as though being symbolic of the different destinies that await Kiryu and Saejima although they are both yakuza.
A Hannya representing jealousy and tenacity, and the sacred albino snake. A "crazy" combination you wouldn't normally see.
A carp trying to leap through the Dragon's Gate and become a dragon. It has a notable shine to it on the back of Nishikiyama, who tries to overcome Kiryu.
The Oryu, one of the Four Benevolent Animals that reign over all beasts. A notable feature is its three claws. The Sanskrit writing in the top right refers to the year of the monkey in the Chinese zodiac*.