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Photo: KANO Tatsuhiko

Tattoo. Spelled “needle thrust” in Japanese, hajichi carves designs in ink by pricking with bundled needles. It signified the maturing of a woman, tattooed their hands at rituals celebrating the coming-of-age. Such hajichi was the symbol of southern island women. However, due to the prohibition by the Meiji Government, the scarcely remaining holders are all in their senior years and the tradition is on its way to extinction in recent years. It is very unlikely to encounter a perfectly shaped hajichi today.

Southern island woman lived their life with hajichi throughout history. Hajichi was longed for over husband or money. Songs sang that without it, they would be unable to attain eternal rest. Figures were also drawn in ink on the hands of the dead infants. 

Their hands form an outlook on the world or the universe of a southern island. The “five stars” as a talisman; the “hermit crab” as the ancestry legend; the “hōmigwā” or the cowrie in a sexual meaning; the “crab” as a symbol of regeneration; the “point of an arrow” is said to be carved for the brides to never return home like a flying arrow, though I presume that it threatens invisible enemies or evil spirits. The design differs greatly depending on the island, hence quite various. Figures of looms exist as well. Within the tattoos with a deep blue in their hands, the heart of southern island women—a thought, a wish, or a prayer to protect themselves from illness and misfortunes—arises and touches my soul.