Pretty much everyone who navigates the tattoo scene, at least once stumbled across this horned face with demonic eyes and sharp teeth. The Japanese Hannya tattoo is a very popular motif and you can wear it in all shapes and colours. But what hides behind this mask with distorted facial features?
Japanese Hannya in the Noh-Theatre
The name probably comes from the “Hannya Shingyo Sutra”, which plays a central role in Budhism.
The background of the figure is based on the play “The Lady Aoi” which is itself based on the novel “The Story of Prince Genji” (1021).
In the play, after Hikaru Genji has an affair with Lady Aoi, he rejects Lady Rokujo, which sends her into a rage. Her hateful soul leaves her body in her sleep and follows Lady Aoi, with fatal consequences.
“Oh, the terrible voice of Hannya”, exclamates Lady Aoi associating for the first time the character to the name.
As a result the name has since then generally stood for a woman who becomes a kind of female Oni through hatred and jealousy.
Female demon aka Hannya
In traditional Japanese folk beliefs, people fear female jealousy, this is why the mask almost always has feminine connotations.
One of the most striking is the split hairline on the head. This hairstyle was not common for men, that’s why it clearly indicates a woman. Other striking features of Hannyas are for instance fangs, pronounced jaw area, high forehead, horns, enlarged eyes, skin color (from white, to bluish / greenish and finally red, according to the intensity of the negative feelings).
Of course, there are hardly any limits to creativity here. That’s why artists can interpret the Hannya mask as they want.
Japanese Hannya as a tattoo motif
All cultures of the world know the Japanese Hannya tattoo motif.
We all carry demons within us and if we are not careful and let them guide our feelings they could overwhelm us. In the western world “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is a modern example of it. We have to learn how to control our demons, as this can give us a lot of strength and bring us closer to our goals.
The Japanese Hannya tattoo motif stands indeed for being aware of our inner demons: we use them for our purposes, always being careful to not let them use us.
Of course, everyone can create a personal connection to the design, since a Japanese Hannya tattoo is a very aesthetic motif for both small and large tattoo projects.
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See you soon at Good Old Times Tattoo Berlin.