A young woman getting Hajichi

Hajichi: The Powerful Female Tattooing Tradition of the Ryukyus

Sherry

Contributor at Kanasa

Due to society being conditioned to believe a particular standard or ideal of beauty, we forget the beautiful cultural traditions that women once practiced to preserve their beauty that were vastly different to the standards we see today.

Dominant cultural beliefs often undermine the beauty of difference, and that can be said for the hand tattooing traditions of the Ryukyus.

Hajichi was a commonly practiced tattooing tradition in the Ryukyuan Kingdom, before the annexation of the Ryukyu Islands during the Meiji Restoration of Japan. The tattoos vary in nature, patterns, and shapes are largely determined by Island, giving each tattoo design its unique distinction between the others.

Hand tattoos were only worn by the women of the Ryukyus, and the practice strictly lied in female culture.

The tattoo artist, also known as a Hajitiya used a sharpened bamboo stick as the needle, dipping it in a charcoal-based ink mixed with the traditional Ryukyuan spirit, awamori.

History of Hajichi 

Not much is known about how the practice of female-only tattooing came about. Considering the geographical location of the Ryukyus and how the Ryukyus served as an important cultural & trade route between Southeast & East Asia, it’s entirely plausible that we were influenced by the tattooing culture found in the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia & Samoa.

Travel records have shown that Hajichi was a practice performed since the 16th century. Some historians theorize that Hajichi was brought over by the noble class, with the practice subsequently passed down the classes.

At the beginning of the Meiji Era (1868) women from all professions and economic classes believed to have Hajichi.

From Mother to Daughter: The Reasons for Hajichi

In modern day Ryukyu, there are many beliefs held about the reasons behind a woman’s decision to get Hajichi.
Some mistakenly believe that it was purely for sexist reasons such as ‘marking’ a woman once they had gotten married.
However, research showed that there were many different reasons behind a woman’s decision to get Hajichi, such as:

In Miyakojima, the results were contrastively different to the other islands’ responses:

The research also highlighted how many women had Hajichi whilst they were very young, indicating that it was something done during a woman’s youth, rather than solely for the sanctity of marriage.

This also suggests the beautiful nature of how Ryukyuan society was not as vigorously patriarchal compared to other cultures.
Hajichi tattoo by age:

Regarding when the Hajichi tattoo process, the respondents answered:

Research first published from Okinawando

The Meanings behind Hajichi

Ryukyan Hajichi Designs

Hajichi was also done when a woman got married, fell pregnant, or when a woman hit certain milestones such as turning 60 years old.

The tattoos consisted of cross-shaped patterns and dots, as well as flower and star-like patterns.
Some say that the designs were drawn following the stars seen by the Hajitiya in the night skies.

Hajichi Tattoo Designs by Island

Hajichi bears similarity to tattoos of other pacific islands such as Samoan, Taiwanese, and Palauan tattoos, which could be due to the trading relations Ryukyuans had with many Pacific kingdoms aforementioned.

It is said that the Ryukyuan Kingdom had at around 44 embassies, such as in Siam, Java, Luzon, Sumatra, and Borneo.

Other kingdoms Ryukyuans came into contact with included kingdoms in the Pacific, the dynasties of China, and the Philippines.

Is Hajichi still practiced today?

Unfortunately, due to the suppression of practices such as these, which did not fit into the status quo of Japanese hegemony, Hajichi is seldom practiced in the Ryukyus.  

 Many of the women who have them have now passed, and many have adopted the belief that tattoos are unruly, as this is the common belief people hold in Japan.  

In mainland Japan, tattoos were often associated with Yakuza who are Japanese gangs.    

 However, it’s not all bad news as young Ryukyuans are increasingly becoming more in touch with their ancestral roots, finding a newfound connection with cultural practices once deeply suppressed and condemned.  Much like the strong indigenous spirit of our Brothers and Sisters  in Hawai’i, Samoa, and America, the Ryukyuan youth are paying homage to the sacred spiritual roots that make the Ryukyus the special place it is.    

One example is Morika Yoshiyama, an artist from Okinawa city has defied the cultural standards of Japan and made the decision to get Hajichi.  

'I imagine the feelings of my ancestors, and it's my joy to have been born as an Okinawan' she explained, in a piece in Asahi. 

'I imagine the feelings of my ancestors, and it's my joy to have been born as an Okinawan'

In the same article, photographer Hiroaki Yamashiro hoped that this revival will provide ‘an opportunity for tattoos to be re-evaluated as a tradition and people’s personalities’.

Lee A. Tonouchi, a Ryukyuan born and raised in Hawai’i recently published a book called ‘Okinawan Princess: Da Legend of Hajichi Tattoos’ which explores the beauty and history behind Hajichi tattoos through a children’s book. It is illustrated by Laura Kina.

You can buy a copy via an independent Hawaiian publisher here. We find the tattoo designs exceptionally beautiful, and I’m even personally considering getting one purely for the basis of preserving my fascinating culture and celebrating a unique idea of beauty.

What do you think? Post in the comments below.

Hajichi Tattoo

How to Say 'Hajichi' by Island Languages

2 thoughts on “Hajichi: The Powerful Female Tattooing Tradition of the Ryukyus”

  1. Pingback: Paantu: The Mud-Covered Sacred Deities of Miyako – KANASA

  2. Aloha!! I loved this article. Mahalo nui for sharing. My name is Kamala Yogi. I am an Okinawan/Hawaiian woman living on Oahu. I’m Yonsei generation. When my great grandmother came to Hawaii, she already had her hands tattooed. I would love to get a hajichi done! Do you have any recommendations for artists I could contact. I’d prefer someone who uses traditional methods. Mahalo!

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