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Ainu Tattoo

Page history last edited by Steve Beckham 13 years, 6 months ago

 

"Even without it

she's so beautiful

the tattoo around her lips

how brilliant it is

it can only be wondered at."

- Honda Katsuichi

 

 

     The Ainu women hold a unique position when it comes to the art of tattoo in indigenous cultures. They are the sole keepers of tattoo within their community. Tattooing is limited to women only, practiced in the company of women and performed by a female tattooist; Ainu men are never tattooed.

      Ainu women wore tattoos around the mouth, on the hands and arms and occasionally on the brows. The hand and arm tattoos are said to have been protective against harmful disease and misfortune. The facial tattoo, while also referenced as a protective measure, is primarily associated with an ideal feminine beauty. Facially tattoing began for a girl at around age six or seven and was continually applied annually until completion prior to marriage, typically around age fourteen or fifteen. Anticipation and completion of tattoo parallels associations made by women with Maori moko. Receiving a facial tattoo not only heightened beauty, it communicated maturity. An Ainu girl without facial tattoo was considered less desirable for marriage.

     The self defined Ainu population, between 25,000 and 50,000, currently reside in scattered villages in Northern Hokkaido. 

 

 

Ainu woman with bold facial and forearm tattoos.

 

 

 

Historical Outline of Ainu Colonialism

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments (8)

Jessica Tessman said

at 8:05 pm on May 27, 2009

When did Ainu tattoo begin? And was there some sort of story or myth behind the beginning of this tattooing?

dmhale@u.washington.edu said

at 11:38 am on May 30, 2009

Following up the discussion about the difference between arrival to the islands of indigenous Japanese (Ainu) vs. the Japanese.... It's very interesting because I didn't realize that the Ainu are thought to be a direct line from the Jomon people! I took Survey of Japanese Art with Professor Bogel, and we studied the Jomon period for a week or so, and from the sounds of it, I had thought that group had died out. Anyhow, seeing as how these two groups migrated from different areas and different times, I'm sort of interested in the word for god "kamuy" because I instantly relate it to the Japanese/Shinto word for god "kami." I wonder if there is a linguistic link, or why these words are so similar. There are other similarities to Shintoism, such as the animist aspect. I wonder if its possible that the Japanese who migrated from mainland China and Korea were influenced by the Ainu/Jomon people for their religion, or maybe it's all just a coincidence.

Sara Hughes said

at 7:30 pm on May 31, 2009

I very much appreciated that you discussed the role of storytelling and oral tradition in your presentation. Although so much adornment has direct connections to the oral or writing systems within a culture, this aspect of adornment isn't usually discussed a lot. It makes complete sense that the lack of a written language would result in a heavy emphasis on the cultural practice of storytelling and the depictions of narrative from these stories, such as what we saw in the tattoos, even if they are abstractions of historical events or stories. It also seemed to me that the tattoo on a woman's mouth (from which she tells stories) is not a coincidence...

Sara Hughes said

at 7:30 pm on May 31, 2009

I very much appreciated that you discussed the role of storytelling and oral tradition in your presentation. Although so much adornment has direct connections to the oral or writing systems within a culture, this aspect of adornment isn't usually discussed a lot. It makes complete sense that the lack of a written language would result in a heavy emphasis on the cultural practice of storytelling and the depictions of narrative from these stories, such as what we saw in the tattoos, even if they are abstractions of historical events or stories. It also seemed to me that the tattoo on a woman's mouth (from which she tells stories) is not a coincidence...

zoe said

at 10:27 am on Jun 3, 2009

this presentation was one of most interesting to me, because i have never heard or known about this culture in japan. growing up in korea, i had always thought that japan was really close and their culture tangible, but this was really refreshing. i still wonder the reasons for this specific tattoo, for the western eye, it does come off a little creepy (as the joker face). i think it is so interesting how different cultures have vastly different standards of beauty. it is interesting that long black lips that take up most of the space on the face is considered beautiful.

Mark Anthony said

at 10:47 am on Jun 3, 2009

The tattoo on the mouth does give an impression of the Joker's "Glasgow smile." You mentioned specifically that only women of the Ainu were allowed to get such tattoos--and that the Ainu as a whole were not really considered Japanese. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that mainland Japan thought they didn't align with their own system of customs that they felt they should not really be included as part of their own. Do me, when a woman of Ainu background did obtain a tattoo--rather than the impression of being dominated for having to have one, it came off more so as becoming a dominant presence within the tribe--because now you were seen much differently. When one compares that to the male-dominance of mainland Japan, I somehow begin to note a connection even further.

kelseyrn said

at 6:43 pm on Jun 3, 2009

I found it particularly interesting to hear your presentationin in connection with the one on Ainu clothing. I saw the significance of layered meanings in their body adornment. An Ainu version of the Hawiian warrior. A female version in which protection was found in tatooing and clothing. The similarity of the hand and arm tattoo with particular ropes used for burial was also interesting to me. I saw in the illustration you presented that their were different rope styles and thus different tattoo designs. Are there differnt meaning/uses for the ropes types and perhaps then diffrent meanings for the tattoos?

marcyj@u.washington.edu said

at 4:55 am on Jun 8, 2009

this kind of tattoo really changes the way the mouth looks. Almost like a perpetual smile, yet it's black. I really don't know what to think about it.

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