Okinawan Princess: Da Legend of Hajichi Tattoos by Lee A. Tonouchi is almost impossible to find and somehow I was lucky enough to get my hands on four copies. I hope it will become available again soon. Written for children in three languages, it tells the story of the almost forgotten hajichi tattoos all Okinawan women used to wear proudly.
Three generations ago an Okinawan woman would have symbols tattooed on the back of her hands. From a young age a woman would ask for these marks made by a special dye created from balsam flowers and an Okinawan rice liquor. Rich girls were tattooed with sumi ink from China. All her life she would add special symbols to remember events in her life… coming of age, marriage, children and grandchildren. My great-grandmother had hajichi.
The Japanese decided the art of hand tattoos were unbecoming and tribal. They were outlawed in 1879 when the Japanese claimed the Ryukyuan islands as their own. Women with hajichi were humiliated and the practice today has been almost forgotten. To this day, the Okinawan people still live under Japanese rule in spite of being a separate culture and there is a movement to return their homeland.
This book is written in Hawaiian Creole, Japanese and Uchinaaguchi—the languages spoken on Okinawa. The story begins with a young girl telling her grandmother how she wants to be beautiful like the models she sees on the television. Her grandmother explains that beauty comes in many forms, and proceeds to tell her the origin story for hajichi tattoos—a tale of a clever princess and a pirate king.
A great story for anyone who wishes to know about an under represented indigenous people, I loved everything about this book. The art is colorful and reminds me of Bingata, a traditional stenciled resist dyeing technique that originated in Okinawa. The story is fun, educational and I enjoyed reading the Hawaiian Creole, known more commonly as Pidgin. I recognize it as what my grandmother spoke.
Because this book isn’t easily available, I’ve embedded a story hour reading below. Maybe we can get a reading from Lee A. Tonouchi, the author. It would be great to hear the story read in Pidgin from “Da Pidgin Guerilla” himself, as he is known. For now, here are two videos I found that share the story and how it came to be.
First, hear from the illustrator Laura Kina about the illustrations and how this project was brought to life.
And now a reading of the story itself…