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February 23, 2023

New generation revives Okinawa's once-banned Indigenous body art

Hajichi - the traditionally hand-poked tattoo markings were once common on women of the Ryukyu, who lived throughout the southern islands of what is now Japan.

The monochrome patterns, ranging from delicate arrow-like symbols to arrays of large dots, marked important moments in a woman's life and, in some cases, were believed to ensure passage to heaven. Hajichi was traditionally applied with a bamboo stick and ink made from charcoal and the Okinawan liquor awamori. 

When Japan annexed the Okinawa island chain in 1879, however, a process of forced assimilation set the hajichi tradition on the path to extinction.

In mainland Japan, tattoos were associated with illegal behavior, because criminals were sometimes tattooed by authorities to mark them out.

While tattoos are still often frowned upon in Japanese society, younger generations are increasingly open to body art.

Photos: AFP

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