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Hannya Doin?

Here we are again, friends of Speakeasy Tattoo. How have you been? Did you have a good Valentine's Day?

Seems like Valentine's Day can sometimes be the source of strife in some relationships. Be it someone didnt go all out enough, or someone didnt pay enough attention to someone else. Personally, I love Valentine's Day but I also can see how it can be a tumultuous time for couples. Feelings are weird and difficult to control. One of the worst feelings that we cannot control that can reer its ugly head on the 14th of February is Jealousy.

This brings me to the Hannya. That's right, we are continuing our Yokai journey through the mythic characters and entities in Japanese folklore.

One of the most striking and terrifying images in both Japanese folklore as well as traditional Japanese folklore, the Hannya are female demons known as Koji.

They were, at one time, human, but they were consumed by jealousy which has transformed them into these terrifying demonic figures.

There are three grades of hannya: namanari, chūnari, and honnari. Namanari hannya are kijo that still resemble human women. They have small horns and use dark magic to perform their evil deeds, such as summoning ikiryō to attack their enemies. They are not completely evil; there remains a chance for these beginner demons to return to humanity. Chūnari hannya are mid-level demons. They have long, sharp horns, tusk-like fangs, and more powerful magic. However, they are still vulnerable to Buddhist prayers. Honnari hannya are true demons and the most powerful of the three. They have serpentine bodies and breathe fire. Honnari hannya have embraced their jealousy so deeply that there is no calming their fury. (source: yokai.com)

The name Hannya itself is the source of some confusion. If these demonesses are called Koji, why do we refer to them as Hannya in traditional Noh theater? One school of thought holds that the name refers the name of the artist who carved these wooden masks, Hannyabo. But if the masks are named after this artist, why do they specifically refer to these Koji demons? By this logic, shouldn't all wooden Noh masks be referred to as Hannya? Yet, this is not the case. The other thought is that the name originates from the Sanskrit word for wisdom: Prajñāpāramitā. This is the highest form of Buddhist wisdom which leads to enlightenment. But here again we encounter a contradiction. Are these not representations of jealousy and rage? Why then would they be named after the highest enlightenment? This comes back to Noh theatre. Specifically the famous play Aoi no Ve. This tells the story of Prince Genji, who was married to Lady Aoi but had a mistress named Lady Rokujo. When his wife became pregnant, Prince Genji started to ignore Lady Rokujo. As a result, Lady Rokujo turns into a immensely jealous woman and is overcome with violent anger. With blinding rage, she transforms into a demon and possesses the wife. When a shugenja (an ascetic mystic) exorcises the spirit of the hannya Lady Rokujō from Lady Aoi. As it is driven away, the evil spirit cries out, “Oh, how horrible! The voice of wisdom is like a demon!” Since then, demon masks and wisdom have been associated with each other.

This brings us to the use of the Hannya in tattooing. Because the mask was traditionally designed to change expressions depending on the angle at which it was viewed, a Hannya tattoo design could represent the different stages of emotion.

Anger, Jealousy, Resentment: A Hannya tattoo may indicate that the wearer is unforgiving. It is for this reason that the tattoo is so popular among the Yakuza (the Japanese mafia). A Yakuza member who wears this wants people to know that he shows no mercy and is a formidable force to be reckoned with.

Pure Evil: If the mask is painted red, it indicates that the woman has lost control of herself and has turned into a demon completely. Someone who sports a red Hannya mask tattoo has probably gone too far over to the dark side.

Passion and Love: The Hannya represents a woman that is overcome with intense and passionate emotions associated with love. The wearer might have had a history of unrequited love or betrayal. A Hannya tattoo could also represent someone who tends to give all of herself in a romantic relationship—all or nothing.

Good Luck: In traditional Japanese culture, the Hannya symbol is used as a talisman to scare and ward off evil spirits and to bring good luck. Some superstitious people carry around a miniature Hannya mask on a keychain for protection, so getting a permanent Hannya tattoo on your body is a convenient way to take this talisman with you wherever you go.

Judge of Good and Evil: The Hannya is the female version of the Oni (male demon). In Japanese folklore, the Oni punishes people by spreading disease. This may explain why the Hannya mask tattoo is popular among yakuza gang members as they often punish their enemies.

Wisdom: Because the word Hannya is a Japanese term for "wisdom," hannya mask tattoos are a reminder to the wearer to be prudent in their romantic relationships.

Tormented Female Spirit: The Hannya is a symbol of the human struggle between good and bad—the Hannya is sad but becomes evil when she lets her sadness turn into resentful anger. The mask could be a representation of a woman who is perpetually haunted by emotional conflict.

Haunted Past: If you have a memory that haunts you but serves as a valuable lesson, the Hannya tattoo could be a representation of that. Some people also believe that the Hannya could prevent the past from repeating itself. The tattoo could also symbolize a difficult and emotional period in your past that you have conquered.

Theater: A performer of traditional Japanese plays might get this tattoo to symbolize their profession and love for theater and Japanese culture.

Even the color is important. One belief is that the deeper the color of a Hannya mask, the angrier or more malicious it’s supposed to be.

A Hannya mask with a lighter complexion means that the wearer is not yet a demon. The horns are usually smaller too. A lighter-colored Hannya tattoo means that the wearer is still human but is experiencing turmoil beneath the surface.

A darker red represents someone who has already been through a hellish emotional past.

A deep dark red is symbolic of someone who is filled with rage and is out for vengeance.

(source tatring.com)

Pale or flesh-tone = Aristocrat/noble Forehead white; rest of face red =Lower class/commoner Completely red=True demon/never human


The meanings can extend beyond the mask itself into the surrounding imagery.

Tidal Waves: Like the Hannya, waves are unpredictable. Both the Hannya and the wave can be destructive, but they can also have moments of calm solitude. Chrysanthemums: Flowers are popular designs that are often incorporated into tattoos of this Japanese devil mask. Because this flower blooms in fall, and fall is the season of change, a Hannya chrysanthemum tattoo represents an anguished person who desires to escape their emotional state. Sakuras/Cherry Blossom: Cherry blossoms represent life after death or illness. A Hannya cherry blossom tattoo is symbolic of achieving a better life after dealing with a tormented past. Maple Leaves: Leaves are symbolic of the cycle of life. The maple leaves and the mask could represent someone with an emotional past who hopes for a better future. Snake: This one is popular with the yakuza. In Japanese culture, the snake represents good luck and protection. In Ancient Japanese culture, the snake represented immortality. Hence, a snake Hannya mask tattoo could be a symbol of good luck, or it could mean that the wearer's rage will never die. Skull: The skull is a positive representation of the life cycle. It is usually used to honor the dead. It could also represent the underworld and a demonic life. Koi: Because the koi swims upstream, this fish represents bravery, strength, and determination. Portrayed positively, a Hannya koi tattoo symbolizes bravery in the face of situations that may cause one to become jealous and vengeful. In a more negative light, the koi and Hannya mask could be a sign that the wearer is determined to wreak havoc. Dragon: In Oriental culture, the dragon is a benevolent creature that uses its strength to do good. A dragon tattoo with a Hannya mask symbolizes the struggle between using your power for hateful vengeance and using it to do good. Geisha: The geisha represents feminine power and intrigue. She is an enigmatic entertainment figure and can only be appreciated by certain people; thus she also represents someone who is unattainable. A Hannya mask and geisha tattoo represents a woman who is emotionally complex and unreachable. On a man, this combination could represent a woman in the man's life who has similar traits. Samurai: The samurai is a symbol of strength and discipline, while the Hannya is a symbol of uncontrolled behavior. This is a fascinating contrast of concepts for a tattoo and could represent the eternal struggle between restrained and mindful thinking and untethered emotions that can cause harm.

Ultimately, meaning can and will be left open to interpretation to the wearer. While these traditional motifs are important, as with many things in the tattoo world, as the art spread and gained wider acceptance, aesthetic often overpowers traditional meaning. An important element of Japanese culture is the exchange of culture itself with visitors. A good example of this is the kimono. While easily one of the most easily recognizably traditional Japanese garments, it was common for the Kimono to be given as a gift to visitors, these spreading the traditional Japanese culture outward. It is similar with these tattoos. As usual, blame the sailors.

Anyway, I think that is more than enough to take up your time today. Stay tuned next week when we talk about heads. Thats right. Heads. For now, check out a Hannya painted by yours truly here. And as always, don't forget to make your submissions here. We are taking appointments for the forthcoming months right now. Enjoy your weekend!


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