While the status of the tattoos are still a puzzle to scholars, some say that the poor favored tattoos like these, while others say that the rich got the tattoos to exclaim their wealth because showing your wealth was barred from public.
It is known for certain that irezumi became associated with firemen, “dashing figures of bravery and roguish sex-appeal”, who wore them as a form of spiritual protection.
At the beginning of the Meiji period the Japanese government decided they were worried about their impression to the west, banned all tattoos. So, from September 8, 1868 to well past the era, tattoos were associated with being a criminal.
Even though tattooing was eventually legalized by the occupation forces in 1948, it’s retained it’s criminal connotations and most notable became associated with the Yakuza.