The Ainu Tribe Of Japan: Petting Bears & Tattooing Lips


Ever heard of people who catch bears when they are cubs and raise them like a member of their family? This practice is most familiar to the Ainu tribe. The Ainu are indigenous people of Japan. The tribe has a cultural identity that interests anthropologists. This tribe of Hokkaido has a story of their own and a culture to practice. One of them is the tattoo tradition.

This indigenous tribe was the earliest settlers here in Hokkaido. These early inhabitants did the hunting, fishing but the arrival of Japanese colonization shattered this tribe’s tradition and culture. One of the major parts of their tradition is women getting tattooed on their bodies and lips. They undergo this tattooing between the ages of 11 to 21. The tattoos are done on the face of the girl, especially on her forehead. If the woman is married, then this woman’s arms would be tattooed. It is believed that a tattoo protects the wearer from evil diseases entering from the mouth and nose. Also, whenever there’s a disease outbreak in the area, the women come together and tattoo each other again to fight the disease. Arms are one of the most visible parts of the body, and women create lines on them to keep the demons away. The tribe also believes that the deities they worship have the same tattoo as these women. So when the demon comes to threaten the village, it would mistake the women for their deities. Thus saves the village.

From Petting A Bear To Mustache Like A Tattoo -Ainu Tribe
Wikimedia commons / Unknown author – 新光社 編「世界地理風俗大系. 別巻〔第3〕」1931年発行

The process of tattooing starts at a very young age, like around 6 or 7. The process occurs in various steps. In the beginning, only a few dots are placed near the upper part of the lip . a small cut is made with a ceremonial knife. It is a gradual process, the number of cuts is added each year. But the wounds are treated with care. First, they rub it with birch charcoal and afterward they apply an antiseptic. This antiseptic is made out of boiled ash of barks. Imagine this process that goes on until the wedding day! Hmm, I am not sure you can even imagine such a thing to happen to you. But it actually does. On this day, the groom gives his bride the final cut that turns out into a smile!

Weird isn’t it? But these did actually happen but eventually, the Japanese government put a ban on the tradition in 1871. But the tradition of the tribe still believes that they die and reach heaven, the demons would do this painstaking tattooing all at once.

Also Check Out: Why Maori Women Tattoo Their Chin And Lips In Black Colour?


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