・Since when and how long will you be staying in Okinawa?
I arrived in Okinawa on the 25th of May and will be staying on the mainland until the 13th of June. I will hopefully stay for few days on Ishigaki Island, before I continue my journey to Taiwan.
・How did you get to know about the Hajichi tattoo? Why does it fascinate you?
I came across hajichi tattooing by coincidence. While planning my visit to mainland Japan and Okinawa last year, I was planning to have a traditional Japanese tattoo, but because I would spend more time in Okinawa, I started researching for tattoo studios in Okinawa. It was during this research that I stumbled upon Hajichi. I have to admit that I was instantly intrigued by the symbols and the stunning images of the hands of old Okinawan women baring these tattoos. From a place of curiosity and fascination I started searching for information about this tradition, totally forgetting my initial reason for finding a tattoo studio and I didn’t end up getting a tattoo done after all!
The more I looked into it, the more interested I became, as it wasn’t only the meaning of the symbols and the role it played in the Okinawan tradition, but also the social importance it had for the women in Okinawan society, the political affiliations deriving from this social status and from its official ban in the 19th century. I also wanted to inquire more about the reason that it has faded away and has not been preserved in the same way as other traditional customs have, and whether it played and still can play a role in maintaining the identity of Okinawa. I suppose it’s a constant struggle to have two different cultures amalgamated in their everyday life; that of Japan and the USA.
I see the Hajichi tradition not only as a beautiful and strong historical record of the Ryukyu kingdom but also a starting point of discussion about memory and tradition and the role this plays in our life, irrelevant to their locality. I believe that the history of Hajichi not only relates to Okinawa but reflects past and recent events that have and are still are shaping our world and raises issues, which nations around the world are facing now. Subjects such as, the ‘violent manifestation’ of skin marking and endurance, as a means of declaration of social status; identity and taboo; the connotation Hajichi carried for the role of women in the society and the political/occupational aims which banned such customs; the reasons for its disappearance and the lack of preservation, apart from very few. I think that all these subjects are related to people globally.
My aim through this residency and the work I will produce, is not only to address these questions but also to have the opportunity to create a platform for people in Okinawa and hopefully in London, as I am planning to continue my research and include this work in other projects, to discuss and exchange knowledge and point of views about the tradition and its role in the modern world.
・How has your research on Hajichi going? Did you get to meet people with the tattoo or interview somebody who knew who had it?
The research is going well; I have many people, who are supporting me, especially as I am not a Japanese speaker, and without whom I couldn’t make such progress. The fact that the actual recording of the tradition didn’t take place until it started to wither, makes it very difficult to trace it back to its origin and the role it played then. The last recording of women having hajichi tattoos was around the first half of the 90s and most of the women were already in their 80s. Currently, as far as I am aware there are no women living today that have Hajichi tattoos stemming from the tradition and that are made with the traditional way, but as tattooing has started becoming popular in Okinawa amongst younger generations there are people, who have chosen to have some of the Hajichi symbols tattooed on them. I haven’t personally come across anyone here but I have seen images of them online.
・How did this exhibition come about in the first place? Is it through Hiromi Tsuha?
Hiromi-san was definitely the catalyst. When I visited Okinawa last year I attended Hiromi’s artist talk at her solo exhibition and I met Cliff Miyagi, an Okinawan artist and also the Spokesman of the Arcade Art Space & Studio. In one of our discussions Cliff suggested a collaboration between the studio and me, so when I returned to the UK and had just started researching Hajichi, I send a proposal for this project.
・Any details on this exhibition including the opening time and the name of it?
Art Spaces & Studios in Okinawa city from the 11th to 12th of June? Are you going to be there?
The exhibition will open on the 11th, opening hours are from 12:00 – 22:00
The exhibition reception will be the same day at 6pm and I will be giving an artist talk on the same day at 7pm about the project and Hajichi and I also am waiting for a special guest to confirm.
On the 12th the exhibition will be open form 12:00 – 18:00
I will be at the exhibition for both days and also there will be material available on Hajichi.
Title of the exhibition:
...and with the marks on my hands I will tell you my story…Hajichi
At the Arcade Art Space & Studio
2f 1-2-3 Chuo, Okinawa-City, Okinawa Japan
tel: +81 98-989-7176