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Year of the Dragon

Year of the Dragon

2024 is the Year of the Dragon!

Dragons are an important and popular tattoo subject matter with origins in Eastern Buddhism that spread from China and India through Korea to Japan. Dragon imagery is seen all throughout these cultures, serving as symbols of strength, wisdom, good fortune, protection, and perseverance.

As Buddhism spread through Japan, the dragon was incorporated into the country’s native religion, Shintosim, and can now be seen on decorative hand washing basins and fountains throughout Japan.


Dragons are actually combinations of many dfferent animals: the head of a camel, the eyes of a rabbit, the horns of a deer, the scales of a carp, the body of a snake, the paws of a tiger, and the claws of an eagle.

While the European dragon is more lizard-like and usually depicted with wings, Japanese and other Asian dragons resemble snakes with long, slender, curving bodies. Both Japanese and Chinese dragons are associated with water but there are some major distinctions between the two. 

Japanese dragons tend to be slightly skinnier than Chinese dragons. Also, Japanese dragons usually have 3 claws while Chinese dragons have 5,4, or 3 claws depending on its imperial rank. According to folklore, Chinese dragons with 5 claws lost one toe each time it moved farther away so that Korean dragons have 4 claws and Japanese have three. In Japanese folklore, however, the story is reversed with the dragon gaining a toe as it moved away. 

Dragons can be depicted  descending down the body (kudari-ryu) or moving up the body (nobori-ryu).

Bill Canales, owner of Full Circle Tattoo in San Diego, California, is known for his large-scale Japanese tattoos. He began his career in 1992 and enjoys freehanding dragons and other traditional Japanese subjects. 

Bill’s work is visually stunning and immediately recognizable. We were so honored to partner with Bill on the release of The Dragon Kit - a 100  flash stamp set including heads, bodies, tails, and complete dragons.

This comprehensive set empowers you to learn the intricate details of dragons while staying true to its ancient artistic form. 

Dragons are one of the toughest tattoo subjects to master. Learn from Bill and The Dragon Kit and shop with confidence - Tattoo Smart offers a 10 day money back guarantee! 

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