LION DOG When Empress Jingo in A.D. 200 invaded Korea, the king of Korea swore to defend the Imperial Palace of Japan in perpetuity. The mythical Korean dog (koma inu), here tattooed by Horigoro III, as well as the Chinese lion (kara shishi), whose statues in stone or porcelain you see outside Japanese shrines, graves, and even private mansions, have become symbolic of guardianship, the protectors of sanctuaries. Their fierceness (yang) is always contrasted with the gorgeous peony flower (yin) for esthetic balance. The skin of the head of the Korean dog was regarded as so tough that it was used for military helmets and considered impervious to arrows. The dog in general is also thought to be a loyal guardian of infants and children.
MODESTY One of the oldest tattoo styles still popular today, here executed by Horijin, is called "river" (kawa) after the river of clear skin down the chest. Because of its short sleeves and trousers that cut off just below the knees, the entire tattoo can be concealed by wearing a happi coat and mompei trousers. The "river tattoo" or "one-fourth body," as opposed to full-body tattoo, is also convenient for removal (flaying) after death without disturbing the irezumi overall patterns.
The left nipple is a peony while the right becomes the source of a waterfall that the carp climbs, persistently, in order to spawn. The right bicep boasts a horned dragon whose tail ends up in clouds on the left arm. The subject wears a fundoshi loin cloth, the usual underwear for Japanese men.
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