The Japanese culture has a lot to offer in terms of history, fables, and visual art. It's no wonder Irezumi, which roughly translates to "inserting ink" is so popular around the globe. Many people love the vibrant, expressive imagery of Japanese tattoo art. But, as with any tattoo from a culture with its own rich history, you should definitely look into the meaning of your Japanese tattoo before committing for life.
Let's take a look at a popular choice for many admirers of Irezumi: The Hannya mask tattoo. Many men choose the Hannya design, including celebrity tattoo artist Ami James. To understand this popular men's tattoo design, it is important that you first understand the basics of Noh theatre. Noh has been performed since the 14th century and continues to take the stage today.
Noh theatre productions are musical dramas. The concept is that a supernatural being takes on a human form in order to tell the audience a story. The characters in these stories are depicted largely through movement and mask work. There are stock characters within these masks, the Hannya mask being one of them.
Hannya is meant to represent a woman who has become so consumed with heartbreak, possessive feelings and jealousy, she becomes a demonic creature. (Been there, girl.) The role of the Hannya is a challenging one, because she is both angry and in a state of complete despair.
When the mask is angled directly at the audience, it appears monstrous and angry. When the mask wearer dips their head down, the shadows that fall across the mask make it appear as if the Hannya character is crying.
Have you heard the phrase "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned?" The quote is actually "Heav'n has no rage, like love to hatred turn'd, Nor hell a fury, like a woman scorn'd." And it is taken from an English 16th century playwright named William Congreve.
Perhaps Mr. Congreve caught a showing of one of the most popular noh plays in history. "The Laughing Demon" by Katsushika Hokusai features Prince Genji, his wife Lady Aoi, and his mistress Lady Rokujo. In the story the prince is having an affair, but chooses to remain faithful to his wife after she becomes pregnant with his child. Lady Rokujo becomes so furious and so sad that she becomes a demon, possessing and eventually killing Lady Aoi. Yikes. Too bad Lady Rokujo couldn't just find a nice rebound guy on Tinder.
So by now you may be asking yourself some questions. For example, if Hannya tattoos are all about female heartbreak as represented in ancient theatre, how did they become such a manly symbol? In the vast world of Irezumi, why choose a Hannya mask tattoo?
The answer is not as straightforward as you may like it to be. As with many tattoos, it's a "different meanings for different people" situation.
Let's go through just a few of the reasons you may want to choose a Hannya mask tattoo.
Hannya masks are thought by some to ward off evil spirits. There are even those who accessorize with mini Hannya mask amulets or keychains for protection and luck.
Maybe you just love the art of Noh theatre, and want to show off that love with an homage to one of its most well known characters. Noh-thing wrong with that!
Hannya tattoos are often associated with the Japanese Mafia, known as the Yakuza. A member of the Yakuza may use a Hannya mask tattoo as a way of showing that they are relentless and unforgiving. Remember, Lady Rokujo killed Lady Aoi, destroying Prince Genji's life and family in the process. A Hannya tattoo can serve as a warning for anyone who thinks of crossing you.
Some choose the Hannya tattoo as an exaggeration of their devotion and romantic side. Someone who tends to be consumed by love may choose this image to remind themselves to stay grounded. Hannya tattoos can also ward against the past repeating itself.
Colour choices are of the essence if you want your Japanese Hannya mask tattoo to represent you, and your reasons for getting it. And after all, why would you go to the trouble of getting a traditional Irezumi if you don't know what different details represent?
There are artists who specialize in modern takes on old school ink, and have introduced stunning new shades to Hannya mask tattoos- with dazzling end results! Have fun with interpretations as you may, but be aware that different colours mean different things in the world of Noh theatre.
This one's pretty simple. The redder you have on you, the more likely you're a demon. If a Hannya mask has no red on its face, the character has not yet become demonic. This will also be reflected in the character's horns; larger horns mean bigger evil on a Hannya mask tattoo.
A dark red Hannya mask suggests a complete lack of humanity. This character has gone completely to the dark side, and won't be back.
Generally speaking, a pale skin tone suggests nobility in Noh theatre. A white forehead with the rest of the face red suggests a member of the working class. Not the most 2019 friendly idea, but it's important to be aware of these things when choosing a design for yourself.
This may be a great reason to choose a modern colour scheme: honouring tradition while moving forward.
If you're thinking to get a Hannya Mask tattoo and you're looking for inspiration, you came to the right place.
We put togheter a diverse photo gallery featuring the best Hannya Mask tattoos we've seen on the web, in order for you to find the style that suits you best. Happy scrolling!
What's your favourite hannya mask tattoo? Tell us here!