Hajichi was banned in 1899, as the Japanese government was pushing for assimilation as well as because new norms of social conduct came into existence during the period of time that Japan opened its doors to foreigners after over 200 years of isolating policies. The view toward tattoos has improved in later years, especially among the younger Japanese; however, the majority of them still view them as taboo and associate them with the infamous Yakuza.
Today, efforts by the small group of tattooists based in Okinawa and Tokyo in Japan to start a revival of hajichi have prompted clients and artists who are part of diaspora communities of Brazil and Hawaii. Some see the revival as an attempt to bring back the time when Okinawan women were in high roles as religious and political leaders. They see it as an affirmation of their status in a nation that is one of the poorest nations in the advancement of women.
“Hajichi is also an element of the idea that women are powerful. In an oppressive society such as Japan, I believe this is one reason I was attracted to hajichi,” stated Moeko Heshiki, 30, creator of the Hajichi Project. “Even in the World of tattoos, many tattoo artists are males. Hajichi was typically created by women to be done, making this particularly meaningful.”
Growing up as a child in Tochigi in the northwestern part of Tokyo, Heshiki experienced microaggressions concerning their Okinawan identity. “You’re lighter-skinned than you’re an Okinawan,” people would comment and then point out that her name isn’t the typical Japanese name (it’s Okinawan.) However, being Okinawan was significant to her.
In her search for a tattoo style that reflected the family she was from, she discovered Hajichi on Pinterest. Her first hajichi was from an artist who was tribal in Tokyo. In 2020, she established the studio she owns in Tokyo and Okinawa. Tattoo artists from Okinawa can now do hajichi; however, Heshiki is the only Hajichi expert in the form of “hajicha” in the islands.
According to research, the origins of Hajichi are a mystery and go back as early as the 16th century.
It is a symbol of confidence in womanhood, beauty as well as protection against evil spirits. It could also be a sign of the union of a couple. Women in their teens often received hajichi in many sessions as a sign of passage through various stages of their lives, per ” Hajichi of Nakijin A Vanishing Tradition,” a 1983 research paper. The islands in Ryukyu each had their design and specifics.
Heshiki is determined to keep traditional techniques as close as possible by hand-poking bamboo needles and drawing inspiration from patterns in historical books, second-hand bookshops, and fabrics from different regions.
She ensures that her customers are of Okinawan origin before giving them tattoos on traditional areas of hands, fingers, and wrists. Many of them are young, mixed-race women who follow Heshiki on Instagram. There are also those who think these tattoos are rare aesthetic and want to have them without affiliating to Okinawa. For these, Heishiki asks to draw tattoos on other body parts, reserving the tattoo on hands, especially for those of Okinawan descent.
The revival of Okinawa has led women to make discoveries about Okinawa before Japanese and U.S. rule. For instance, When Heshiki displayed her hajichi in front of her father, who was born on Okinawa in the U.S. occupation, it brought back memories of his mother, who Heshiki discovered was also tattooed and spoke in a dialect that was lost following the annexed territory.
They hope to pass it on. Akemi Matsuzaki, 32 years old Okinawan native, teaches hip-hop dancing and is frequently confronted with questions about her hajichi by students, leading to conversations on Okinawan Indigenous tradition.
Matsuzaki, whose grandfather is American, received her first hajichi and plans to complete the hand design. After she turns 37, an essential milestone in Okinawa, she plans to get a unique design to commemorate the date.
“When it was done the way I wanted it to be, it felt amazing, and everything was so easy for my body,” she said. “Though my birthplace was in Okinawa and now work here having hajichi, it made me feel more confident about the reality that I truly am here and feel more confident about who I am.”
Yet, hajichi remains rare. The idea of a tattoo, particularly on a body part that is exposed, such as the fingers, could be considered a huge decision that can backfire professionally.
For women who fear the social stigma, Minami Shimoji, a 30-year-old occupational therapy therapist from Okinawa, provides an alternative temporary hajichi that uses ink made from fruit that was previously employed to create Amazonian tribal tattoos.
Shimoji first learned about hajichi when she met an elderly patient with a mark on her hands that was similar to the technique.
Shimoji loved performing Okinawan dances, and she wanted to understand more. She dreams of becoming a full-time tattoo artist, but she currently operates a studio part-time in an apartment in Chatan, near a U.S. military base.
While military aircrafts roared past and sounded like they were drowning out the music in her home studio, she looked through the thousands of comments left on the TikTok post she had made on the hajichi.
She’s aware of criticism from traditionalists who aren’t fans of her transforming Hajichi into body art that only lasts two weeks. However, even in the Ryukyu time, hajichi had developed, she explained.