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Japanese Tattoo Designs
The Meaning Of Japanese Tattoos
The most used Japanese tattoo motives with an explanation of their meanings.
- Hannya Masks
- Kiyo Hime
- Fud˘ My˘˘
- Tamatori Hime
- Suikoden Warriors
Contrary to wide-spread opinion Hannya Masks do not have anything to do with the devil or Satan. There is a concept of a hell in Japanese Buddhism, but Hannyas are terrestrial monsters. Confused human feelings like passion, jealousy or hate can transform women into these dreadful monsters. In the classic N˘-Theatre of Japan, where the actors often used Hannya masks, stories of such female demons are told, who can only be released from their inhuman shape through Buddhism.
The best known story of a Hannya demon is the one from Kiyo Hime. Her father owned a harborage in which a monk stopped each year. Over the years Kiyo Hime developed a deep love of the monk but her feelings could not be returned by him. One night Kiyo Hime confessed her love to him and it turned into an argument between the two of them. Kiyo Hime became so enraged that the monk had to escape. He found shelter in a close monastery and hid himself under an enormous bell. In the meantime, in the intoxication of her/its hate/love, Kiyo Hime had transformed into a demon with the body of a snake and a Hannya head. It sought out the monk's hiding place and melted the bell with its fire breath, thereby causing the object of its longing a painful death.
Kannon is a Bodhisattva of the Mahayana Buddhism. The task of the Bodhisattva is it to support humans on their way to illumination. There are Bodhisattva with several different tasks. Kannon is the Bodhisattva of sympathy and pity. In Japan Kannon is represented by a woman, usually riding a dragon. while in India, the country of origin of Buddhism, Kannon is represented by a male.
In the Buddhist hierarchy the M˘˘s stand under the Bodhisattva. They are also protectors of Buddhism but, contrary to the gentle Bodhisattva, rather martial due to their armament. The most popular My˘˘ as a tattoo motive is Fud˘ My˘˘, the imperturbable one. He is also considered the guardian of hell, is very knowledgeable and is always displayed with a rope (with which he binds evil) and a sword (with which he fights Buddhism's enemies).
The most well known Japanese motif is definitely the dragon. In Japan it is regarded as an animal that brings good luck. This may be due to the fact that the Japanese dragon is a water symbol. It lives either in the clouds, from where he climbs down during thunderstorms, or in rivers and lakes. It stands for an element which was of enormous importance for the cultivation of rice in Japan. Therefore dragons are highly respected and admired in Japan and were not fought - unlike those in European folklore.
Find out more about Dragon Tattoos by clicking here.
In Japan, a koi jumping or swimming up a waterfall is a symbol of strength, the ability to assert oneself and success. As a phallic symbol it stands for male strength and power.
The legend tells that Tamatori Hime once stole a precious bead from the king of the underwater world (who was an enormous dragon) - this was his most valuable possession. In order to swim faster on her escape, Tamatori Hime cut herself and hid the bead in her own body. Although she found her way ashore, she died from her injuries - becoming a victim of her own greed.
Although there were never any tigers living in Japan, this majestic looking motive found its way into the forming arts of Japan really early. Drafts for Japanese pictures of these sovereign and at the same time strength defying animals were probably tigers who were introduced from India. The same as carps and dragons the tiger as a tattoo motive primarily is a symbol of strength and power.
In an ancient Chinese novel, which was was translated into Japanese in the middle of the 18. Century under the title Suikoden (Stories of the Beach), it is told from 108 rebels who carried some tattoos. The illustrations of many different Japanese artists to the adventures of these brigands were used as tattoo flash. Especially the color woodcut series of Utagawa Kuniyoshi was gladly used which was published by the artist in the year 1827.
In Japan the snake is also considered an animal with a negative character, although the association between snake and sin, biblically justified with us, is naturally missing there. When applying a full body suit a good Japanese tattoo artist attends to combine snakes only with designs of blossoms which actually bloom at the seasons in which snakes do not hold their winter sleep.
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