In the Edo period it was popular for lovers to have tattoos on the hands with half of the design on each person. The design was only completed when they joined hands. This was the golden age of Irezumi and the art flourished.
During the Meiji period Irezumi was banned due to the influence of the West. However, the practice and art of Irezumi continued underground.
Irezumi was legalized after WWII. In the post war period Tattoos continue to be associated with criminality and in particular the Yakuza. Most onsen (hotspring) baths still do not allow people with tattoos to enter.