Updated: Oct 13, 2018
The bamboo is an Asian and Zen symbol. It's symbolism is old and deep and part of the old Japanese tattoo school tradition. For them it stands for strength and resilience and the reason will become obvious further down.
It is also used as a medium for the ancient tattoo Thai technique. Bamboo thorns were used as needles by monks, to create an authentic tattoo. The art of ‘Sak Yant’ is inspired by religions – Buddhism, Animism and Brahmanism, all practiced in Asia. Sak Yants came from previously held traditions in Thai (and other Asian) cultures as part of the Shamanistic traditions that already existed.
Back then the tattoos where placed on a body by monks as mantras (blessings, prayers) to protect the wearer. Monks had them by their master and each one was unique and associated to the individual's life path. Many warriors passed through Buddhist temples to get one before they head to battle. That being said you can see that the bamboo is associated with the origin of the tattoo art back to 3000 years ago. We know that because mummies (both men and women) were found with tattoos still visible on their bodies.
Bamboo is a plant that will survive even the strongest winds (tornados, typhoons, hurricanes), having very deep and strong roots that support it's great height... it also sways with the slightest breeze.
In the Chinese and Japanese culture, this is a strong symbol of resilience and humility. Bamboos are about non resistance, allowing the flow of life to pass through you. Comparing them to other trees they look so weak and thin, reminding us not to judge a book by it's cover. Bamboos survive extreme climate changes and temperatures just by staying plain and simple. Aikido master Kensho Furuya says that
“The bamboo in its simplicity expresses its usefulness. Man should do the same.”
Bamboo trees live for a long time, sometimes for a century and this stands for longevity. Did you know that they blossom rarely sometimes once in 60-100 years, and when they do, they die afterwards? Along with that all the bamboos of the specific forest die with them. This is one of the reasons that bamboo flowers are considered a curse in some Chinese, Tibetan and Indian tradition and mythology.
In Chinese language bamboo is named “Fu Gvi Ju”.
Fu - Riches / Gvi – Power and Honor / Ju – the Bamboo. In many cases the bamboo symbolises the season of summer.
Bamboo is among the fastest-growing plants in the world. They remind us to never stop growing and expanding.
For the Japanese and Chinese culture it is also a symbol of good luck and used in Japan for New Year celebration.
In parts of India it represents tranquillity and inner peace along with friendship.
(One thing you should keep in mind is not to confuse the bamboo plant with the "lucky bamboo" mentioned in Feng shui. Those are not bamboos but Dracenas sanderianas, a different species. They belong to the same family as the Lily plants and they have wonderful qualities but they are not bamboos.)
Tattoo art and bamboos