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'I want to tattoo in a way that disrespects the status quo.' A Q&A with Hajichi revivalist and tattoo artist Mona Maruyama

Sabrina Iglesias, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Lifestyles

PHILADELPHIA -- How many people can say they’re in a 13-person worldwide collective of people doing their specific job? Or that folks travel from all over to work with them? Most of us certainly can’t, but Mona Maruyama, a tattoo artist at Floating World Tattoos in Philadelphia, can.

Maruyama does Hajichi, a traditional style of permanent body markings reserved for Okinawan women. It is said that Hajichi offers protection and spiritual connection to their ancestors. “[It] is a constant reminder of the land we wish to defend,” Maruyama said.

The community of Hajichi artists, or Hajichaa, keeps in touch via group chat, holds meetups, and has a website dedicated to providing information and resources surrounding Hajichi. They are members of the Ryukyuan diaspora and aim to encourage the revival of the Hajichi ritual and tradition.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

How did you get started in Hajichi style tattooing?

I got into giving Hajichi to members of the diaspora after hearing members of the community encouraging Ryukyuan artists to begin practicing and looking into supporting the cultural revival effort.

 

What is Hajichi? Tell me all about it.

Hajichi is a closed tattoo practice reserved for Okinawan people that was banned by the Japanese government in 1899. Hajichi is one of many words we have to describe tattoos traditionally worn on the hands of women and the term differs from island to island. It’s a tattoo practice that provides protection and connects us to our ancestors and is a constant reminder of the land we wish to defend.

The reasons have changed over time and some of the meaning behind the symbolism has been erased and the information we do have is unfortunately a mere snapshot of the tail end of the thousands of years long tradition, typically recorded by outsiders.

Based on what we know, many of our symbols are based on our land and culture, mostly nature like flowers, stars, inside of turtle shells. But as a collective, we’ve also discussed the similarities in some of the designs and shapes with sound waves of certain frequencies.

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