May 04, 2021

The Tsar with the Dragon Tattoo



The Tsar with the Dragon Tattoo
Look at that sexy royal arm. Wikimedia Commons user Ras67

About three and a half years before taking the throne, a young and reckless Nicholas Alexandrovich Romanov (Nicholas II) got a dragon tattoo on his right arm from wrist to elbow, photos of which have recently resurfaced online. Historians suspect he got a dragon because he was born in the year of the dragon (1868).

He may also have gotten a dragon to follow in the footsteps of his cousin, Prince George of England and future king of England, who got a dragon tattoo in Japan ten years earlier.

Nicholas traveled the world in the armored cruiser Pamyat Azov in the spring of 1891, hoping to gain an understanding of the world's cultures for future use as tsar. Apart from visiting Greece, it was a voyage to the more "exotic" – for him – lands of Asia. He traveled with his other cousin, Prince George of Greece, Count of Corfu, whom he had probably voyaged to Greece to pick up. Both prince and tsarevich got inked together.

Nicholas wrote in his diary that the tattoo took seven hours, from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. He claimed that his arm did not hurt at all.

One photograph from the Yale University Library collection shows Nicholas playing tennis with only his right sleeve rolled up to the elbow, seemingly to show off his tattoo. He did not mind displaying it among close family and friends.

It is ironic that Nicholas had a piece of Japan in his body since only ten years after he took the throne, he would end up in – and losing – a major war with Japan, the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.

Two weeks after getting his tattoo, in the Japanese city of Otsu, Nicholas was attacked in a rickshaw by a saber-wielding policeman. The policeman hit the future tsar twice, once in the head. Prince George of Greece jumped to hit the attacker. The trip was cut short and Nicholas headed home after the shock. Perhaps it was an omen of things to come for Nicholas in Japan.

You Might Also Like

The Real Last Tsar
  • May 01, 2011

The Real Last Tsar

History tends to record Nicholas II as the last Tsar of all the Russias. Not to put too fine a point on it, but History is wrong. There was one more, and this is his fascinating story.
Putting Robots to Work on the Past
  • March 01, 2020

Putting Robots to Work on the Past

Ever wanted to take a stroll in nineteenth century Moscow? See how one Russian uses machine learning to make grainy old videos ever more realistic.
The Emperor Has No Clothes
  • November 03, 2020

The Emperor Has No Clothes

Unexpected nude photos of Nicholas II appeared online last week, causing quite a stir, despite being more than a century old.
Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

22 Russian Crosswords

22 Russian Crosswords

Test your knowledge of the Russian language, Russian history and society with these 22 challenging puzzles taken from the pages of Russian Life magazine. Most all the clues are in English, but you must fill in the answers in Russian. If you get stumped, of course all the puzzles have answers printed at the back of the book.
The Moscow Eccentric

The Moscow Eccentric

Advance reviewers are calling this new translation "a coup" and "a remarkable achievement." This rediscovered gem of a novel by one of Russia's finest writers explores some of the thorniest issues of the early twentieth century.
The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas

The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas

This exciting new trilogy by a Russian author – who has been compared to Orhan Pamuk and Umberto Eco – vividly recreates a lost world, yet its passions and characters are entirely relevant to the present day. Full of mystery, memorable characters, and non-stop adventure, The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas is a must read for lovers of historical fiction and international thrillers.  
The Latchkey Murders

The Latchkey Murders

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin is back on the case in this prequel to the popular mystery Murder at the Dacha, in which a serial killer is on the loose in Khrushchev’s Moscow...
Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar is a hilarious and insightful memoir by a diplomat who was “present at the creation” of US-Soviet relations. Charles Thayer headed off to Russia in 1933, calculating that if he could just learn Russian and be on the spot when the US and USSR established relations, he could make himself indispensable and start a career in the foreign service. Remarkably, he pulled it of.
Russia Rules

Russia Rules

From the shores of the White Sea to Moscow and the Northern Caucasus, Russian Rules is a high-speed thriller based on actual events, terrifying possibilities, and some really stupid decisions.
93 Untranslatable Russian Words

93 Untranslatable Russian Words

Every language has concepts, ideas, words and idioms that are nearly impossible to translate into another language. This book looks at nearly 100 such Russian words and offers paths to their understanding and translation by way of examples from literature and everyday life. Difficult to translate words and concepts are introduced with dictionary definitions, then elucidated with citations from literature, speech and prose, helping the student of Russian comprehend the word/concept in context.
Murder at the Dacha

Murder at the Dacha

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin has a problem. Several, actually. Not the least of them is the fact that a powerful Soviet boss has been murdered, and Matyushkin's surly commander has given him an unreasonably short time frame to close the case.
Murder and the Muse

Murder and the Muse

KGB Chief Andropov has tapped Matyushkin to solve a brazen jewel heist from Picasso’s wife at the posh Metropole Hotel. But when the case bleeds over into murder, machinations, and international intrigue, not everyone is eager to see where the clues might lead.
The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The fables of Ivan Krylov are rich fonts of Russian cultural wisdom and experience – reading and understanding them is vital to grasping the Russian worldview. This new edition of 62 of Krylov’s tales presents them side-by-side in English and Russian. The wonderfully lyrical translations by Lydia Razran Stone are accompanied by original, whimsical color illustrations by Katya Korobkina.
Fish: A History of One Migration

Fish: A History of One Migration

This mesmerizing novel from one of Russia’s most important modern authors traces the life journey of a selfless Russian everywoman. In the wake of the Soviet breakup, inexorable forces drag Vera across the breadth of the Russian empire. Facing a relentless onslaught of human and social trials, she swims against the current of life, countering adversity and pain with compassion and hope, in many ways personifying Mother Russia’s torment and resilience amid the Soviet disintegration.
Moscow and Muscovites

Moscow and Muscovites

Vladimir Gilyarovsky's classic portrait of the Russian capital is one of Russians’ most beloved books. Yet it has never before been translated into English. Until now! It is a spectactular verbal pastiche: conversation, from gutter gibberish to the drawing room; oratory, from illiterates to aristocrats; prose, from boilerplate to Tolstoy; poetry, from earthy humor to Pushkin. 

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts


Our Contacts

Russian Life
PO Box 567
Montpelier VT 05601-0567

800-639-4301
802-223-4955