Horimono (彫り物, 彫物) is the term used for traditional Japanese tattoos. From the Japanese horu 'to carve, engrave or inscribe' and mono, 'thing'.
Executed with tebori, the Japanese tattoo artist uses traditional motifs such as peony flowers, dragons or unique ukiyo-e style human figures to create a tattoo that renders the whole body as a single, symbolic work. Horimono tattoos are also unmistakable by their gaku, literally 'frame', of waves, water or wind swirls surrounding the centre of the tattoo, which gives the horimono its 'suit' appearance.
Horimono are also known variously in literature or speech as irezumi, bunshin, shisei, gaman or hokuro. Although many Westerners and Japanese use irezumi to refer to traditional Japanese tattoos, this is technically incorrect since irezumi is a cruder term based on method. As the term horimono references the art form involved in creating such a tattoo, Japanese tattoo artists and those tattooed generally use the word horimono.
Due in part to the origins of tattoo culture in Japan, its association with geishin (penal tattooing), bakuto groups as well as present day criminal cultures, most notably the Yakuza, tattoos are still a strong social taboo in Japanese culture. Sadly part of this tradition of taboo is also due to discriminatory practices against the Ainu whose women wore large facial tattoos and the Hinin and Burakumin who were given tattoos to brand their caste. Wearers of tattoos may be refused service at onsen (bath houses), hotels, sex clubs and even bars. Part of this practice stems from wanting to avoid trouble with gangs and violent youth, but much more of the prohibition rests on perceived social opinions of difference in Japan and not wanting to make other guests uncomfortable. So even if you are gaijin (foreign) and tattooed you may still be denied entrance despite the obvious lack of Yakuza connection.