Discover the way of the warrior. When it comes to discipline, few rivals stood a chance against the Samurai’s mastered martial arts skills. Not only that, but also their ability to overcome fear of killing and death in combat.
Perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Samurais is of course, the sword!
However, it’s important to know where their true power stems from. The truth is, these warriors followed the practice of Bushido and pledged themselves to principles such as courage, honor, and respect.
In times of life and death, these were the guiding values that kept them strong in times of chaos.
Not to mention, it was the Zen meditation that helped cleanse and calm the mind for razor sharp focus in battle.
Yet, when it comes to the traditional tattoo, you might be surprised to know the process is exceptionally painful. In comparison to today’s methods, it’s a choice not left for the weak hearted. It involves bamboo sticks with lined needles that poke deep into the skin.
If you like this style of military nobility, you’ll find these medieval and early-modern Japan design ideas enjoyable. In this guide, I’ve put together a collection of the top 50 best samurai tattoo designs for men. From notable warriors in battle to beautiful swords that shimmer with bravery.
Samurai Tattoo Ideas
This flowing Samurai back piece features a commitment to black and gray shadow throughout, with a few colored cherry blossoms used to help feature the red mask hiding the warrior’s face. There are no swathes of shading, with the piece relying on change of direction in line work to create different patterns.
This fully armored Samurai in battle is a tremendous example of top-quality artistry. Here, an amazing amount of detail is put in to his armor to give it a realism in the combination of leather and steel, while the wisps of smoke shadow at the bottom exemplify technical balance between light and dark principles.
This is beautifully drawn Samurai portraiture, with exceptional detail throughout. By using gray ink in the warrior’s brocaded robe it helps draw out the linework of his clothing and hair. The use of negative space with thicker black shadows helps fill out the narrowness of the image into a broader design.
This Samurai tattoo creates an anime/cartoon quality in a classic piece of blackwork. The artist’s canny shaping of elements together, all branching out from the warrior at the center make for a beautiful piece of art, enhanced by the line work detail matched with shading. The oddly shaped warrior’s hat is particularly eye-catching.
This is a bad ass piece of body art, featuring a peerless display of detail to create the realistic suit of armor. The chest plate specifically looks like it’s been burnished to a high sheen, while the Samurai’s gloves look like a supple kind of leather. It’s a top-quality statement piece of art on skin.
The artist has painstakingly applied much of this tattoo with a fine needle – it creates an amazing level of depth in detail, allowing the individual scales of the dragon to stand out. This detail contrasts with the clear gray of the mask whose features are drawn beautifully by simple black lines. The subtle use of red ink and negative space create the smoke and flame effects.
Another fantastically detailed piece, this tattoo would have taken at least 30 hours to complete. Everything, in this tattoo, is an expression of quality presentation – from the cross-hatched leather lines of the Samurai sword handle to the bones of each skeleton tooth and wavy bird plumage. Only when the image switches from bird and master do the shapes in the shadows widen and flow.
Nothing like the head of skull warrior to mix elements in tattoo. Samurai tattoos are popular, as are skulls, so why not mix them into one? Again, being able to provide so much detail in the leatherwork of the armor allows for epic detail and contrast. These tattoos make you want to reach out and touch it, just to see if it’s as real as it looks. Even the simple badge is drawn cleverly through the canny use of sharp black ink.
An interesting piece where the sword and hand are identified in the application of negative space and making the tattoo unique. Hands, swords, and scabbards are usually drawn in detail however the artist barely registers them in favor of creating detail from the surrounding space.
This full sleeve Samurai tattoo exemplifies mastery of body art. Everything is done here in tremendous quality, even the solidity of the black work creating the background has no flaws. The Samurai is detailed with deft control, but what creates such peerless work is the mid arm skull and beautifully curved and shadowed vine. The variations in color are so smooth throughout the artwork they make the arm come alive.
What a wicked head shot enhanced by the beautiful blood red background rising sun. The small devil mask crowning the Samurai’s helmet is an enjoyable element. The piece features excellent subtlety of shading throughout and is even visibly expressed through the red ink/white highlights of the flag.
This is another top-drawer Samurai tattoo. The helmet and face mask are cleverly worked to utilize expert use of detail and pattern, while the artist shows off their skill by working the badge of the helmet into a circlet of serpents by using negative space. Every line, shadow, and shape in this tattoo is crisp, clean, and fresh.
This tattoo has a cool concept and placement, however there are a couple of things to look at. Firstly, the blood red sun behind needs to be bigger/wider, to create better overall balance in the piece and for a more realistic sense of scale. Also, the way the helmet has been drawn (facing away with no head, hair, or feature work) makes it look perched awkwardly on top of the chest. It makes the alignment of the Samurai’s suit seem off.
Cool Samurai tattoos aren’t often drawn on the hands due to the space required, but this close in shade specific head shot is well done. Bu using the helmet’s characteristics to take out the eyes, it allows for a more compact artwork that fits the space and moves upward to mesh with the subject’s other work.
Again, the concept here is interesting but there needs to be better execution. There is a huge amount of black in the middle, but by using negative space to try and create other elements of the helmet and Samurai’s face, there’s not enough detail to create clarity in the image over such a large piece. The delicate line work would also likely fade quickly with the way it’s been etched into the subject’s skin.
Now this is a bad ass combo Samurai tattoo. It uses a few interesting elements together in delivering a multi layered artwork. The combination of black and zero space to create shade does an excellent job at making each individual part a cohesive piece of the whole. The use of a solid black warrior in action behind the portrait style main character is also a well worked technique from the artist.
Ooh, now this is an amazing piece of Samurai tattoo work. This sleeve features brilliant technical delivery of detailed shading, use of space, and line drawing, and is one of those pieces that if somebody told you they paid $20,000 for it you’d say “bargain.” This is the ultimate in black work artistry, with little slashes of negative space thrown in just to show off the artist’s mastery (and slightly lighten the heavy tone).
It’s hard to judge an unfinished piece, however the outline shows nice, clean lines. By the look of things the finished product will rely on the different black work pattern to give it shading and contrast.
This an interesting Samurai tattoo who moves from black shadow to solid black. He’s drawn in proportion, with solid skills, however the artist could utilize elements of white ink highlighting to give it a bit of extra detail during the transition from shading through to flat black. Another method might be contrasting the solid black section with a background image and lighter shading to fill it out more.
The artist has etched a piece with deft detail, particularly through the Samurai’s armour. The lacquer interpretation is spot on and well delivered. This creation has acknowledged the need to lighten the whole image and deployed effective green and yellow swatches to contrast the dark tone.
This skeleton samurai provides a couple of beautiful examples of top-class execution. The pink color in the cherry blossoms provides a wonderful counterpoint to the haggard skull, but they are also deployed as exceptional filler in binding the whole sleeve themes together. The artist also put impressive detail into the katana handle, especially the precisely textured hilt guard in the foreground.
Chest piece and sleeve will be combined here, partly as a continuation but also as a cover up for previous work. When finished, the shading will replicate the gray/red color scheme of the sleeve and easily cover up the faded prior image.
This tattoo would have benefitted more by having used a better stencil for the sword. It looks lightly out of proportion in comparison to the Samurai’s body, and the both the blade and hilt need to be straighter.
This is a beautifully rendered tattoo of the famous Japanese wandering Samurai Miyamoto Musashi. He’s the prototype for honorable Samurai behavior. The book by Eiji Yoshikawa is highly recommended reading for those with an interest in the Japanese warrior class. This tattoo is unique in building upon simple principles of line work, with watercolor shadow that’s reminiscent of Japanese calligraphy. It makes Musashi seem like a figure conjured from smoke.
Once completed this half leg sleeve will be a detailed version of the traditional Japanese Irezumi, using it’s shadows and some bright colors to fully realize a tight.
Samurai Tattoo FAQs
Did the Samurai have tattoos?
The Samurai were the Japanese warrior class prevalent from around 1100AD until they were forcibly disbanded in the early 1870s by the Meiji. While Japanese tattoo culture is linked to the outlaw Yakuza class and carry a negative connotation in ultra conservative Japanese society, the truth is that some Samurai did have tattoos.
Samurai tattoos were not widespread however they were implemented to help identify warriors killed in battle, through duelling, or ritual suicide. When traditional Samurai culture was abolished, Japanese Warrior honor systems branched out to business, military, and outlaw offshoots. The Yakuza chose tattoos, or Irezumi, as a method of remembering their Samurai origins and as identification for their separation from normal society.
What is the meaning of a Hannya mask tattoo?
Hannya masks are commonly used in Shinto religious rites and traditional Japanese Noh theatre. Hannya masks depict a woman so completely overcome with anger, envy and a thirst for vengeance that she takes on the form of a jealous demon. Hannya masks are popular tattoos because the fearsome visage is used to represent different stages of emotion when etched into skin using different colors.
What does the Japanese demon mask mean?
The Japanese Oni mask differs from the Hannya mask in that the demon describes aspects of good and evil. Traditionally, Oni mask tattoos represent the punishment of humans for acts of evil and injustice. The Oni mask tattoos are particularly popular with Yakuza tattoos because of the connection to criminality.