Around the World in 25 Tattoos

Although tattoos have significantly gained popularity in recent years, the idea is certainly not a new one!

A common practice throughout Eurasia since Neolithic times, tattooing is also commonplace among indigenous tribes throughout the world. Examples of ancient tattoos include those found on the mummified remains of Ötzi the Iceman, found in a melting glacier in the Ötztal Alps in 1991.

Traditional designs are still popular today, with ancient tribal markings, oriental dragon motifs and Chinese symbols still being widely requested. Modern techniques allow for a rainbow of colours to be applied, resulting in bright and intricate designs which would have been impossible with more primitive equipment.

Here we take a look at designs from around the globe – a ‘world tour’ of tattoos from specific countries and cultures!

New Zealand

We begin in New Zealand, where tattoos form part of the Maori tradition of body markings known as ‘ta moko’. In 1769 Captain Cook wrote describing the markings he found on the indigenous Maori people he encountered: “The marks in general are spirals drawn with great nicety and even elegance. One side corresponds with the other. The marks on the body resemble foliage in old chased ornaments.” Designs based on these traditional markings are still highly popular today.


The traditional Samoan tattoo for males is known as the ‘Pe’a’, and covers the body from waist down to the knees. The female version is known as the ‘malu’.


Many Polynesian cultures developed tattoos similar to Maori and Samoan designs, with elaborate geometric patterns etched in dark ink. Modern interpretations may include additional colours.


Tattoos in Japan are still associated with criminality, as tattoos were outlawed by the Japanese government in the 19th century. Many public bath houses and other institutions still ban those with large tattoos from entering, in an attempt to stop members of the Japanese mafia – the Yakuza – from causing trouble.


Chinese written characters, religious figures and dragons are all popular motifs for tattoos around the world. However, In China, as in Japan, tattoos have historically been associated with the criminal underworld, and are now also associated with organised crime in the country.


Although there is no single style of tattoo associated with America, one fairly recent trend in the US has been for pop culture and corporate tattoos. For example, the Apple logo has become ubiquitous among young tech fans and some big fans of the company have started to get tattoos of the famous bitten Apple.


Tribal tattoos are common in India, as in many countries, and temporary tattoos using henna, known as ‘mehndi’ are also popular, especially for special events such as weddings and religious festivals. Indian gods and associated imagery and symbolism also make for some dramatic tattoo designs, like the award-winning example below.


Thailand also has a unique range of symbols and imagery for tattoos, as well as a technique for applying tattoos which many holidaymakers take advantage of when visiting the country. ‘Bamboo tattoos’ involve the tattoo artist using a few small needles attached to a piece of bamboo, which is then tapped gently into the skin. These tattoos are said to be less painful than regular modern tattoos and also heal more rapidly.


Cuba’s revolutionary leaders Che Guevara and Fidel Castro have become iconic figures in western culture. As well as the ubiquitous Che tshirts, tattoos have also started to become popular around the world.


Celtic imagery is a rich source of inspiration for many looking for an unusual tattoo combing beautiful forms with deeper, spiritual meaning. Celtic knotwork, crosses and the interwoven Tree of Life (below) can be seen in many tattoo designs.

If your wanderlust has been piqued by these impressive designs, click here for some of the best deals on flights and packages to many of the destinations above… who knows, you might even bring back a lifelong reminder of the trip!

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