Many of the popular Japanese characters we know today originated as stock characters in Noh Theatre productions.
A stock character is a character that will be familiar to you from watching TV and movies.
For example, a young lover, a funny older person, or a villain.
Stock characters may have their own unique quirks, but they all draw from the same well.
In the ancient art of Noh theatre, the actors wear masks.
The masks typically have a neutral expression, and it is up to a skilled performer to work the mask.
Through different postures, head positions, and careful movements- a performer can manipulate their mask to convey different emotions.
Mask work is not isolated to Noh theatre however, it has been used all around the world for hundreds of years.
Chances are, the audiences at these mask work shows would recognize their main characters immediately.
Each character has its own distinct mask and way of moving, and an actor would have to study these carefully to get it right.
The most modern equivalent to this would be a Soap Opera, when you can almost immediately tell which character is the hero, and who is up to no good!
What makes Noh theatre distinct from something like a Soap Opera or a Commedia Dell’ Arte (the mask work theatrical tradition that started in Italy in the 16th Century) production, is that Noh theatre has more spiritual connotations.
Some characters in Noh Theatre have ties to deities or mythological creatures in Shinto or Buddhist traditions.
As a result, Noh Theatre characters remain popular today in the form of festival masks, statues or good luck charms.
Some choose to go the extra mile and get these characters as tattoos.
Generally each legendary character has its own meaning, or specific area of your life they may bring luck to.
Depending on what the tattoo wearer is looking for in life, they may get any number of characters tattooed on them.
One pleasant figure who started out as a mask and has become a popular lucky charm is Okame, also known as Otafuku.
Okame tattoos are a popular, pleasant looking design.
But who is Okame, what does she symbolize, and why get an Okame tattoo?
Let’s learn more about this smiling, feminine figure.
Who is Okame?
Okame is considered plain looking by today’s standards, but when the mask was created she was meant to represent the ultimate feminine beauty.
Okame always has a gentle smiling expression on her face.
She has large, chubby cheeks that give off a rosy hue.
Her skin is paper white, and her lips are ruby red.
Okame is a religious figure from the Shinto religion, the most popular practice in Japan next to Buddhism.
She is considered a Goddess of good fortune, happiness, and mirth.
You will frequently hear the word “mirth” associated with Okame, which means someone has a glad spirit and an easy laugh.
In addition to the striking contrast in her colouring, Okame makes a popular tattoo because of the pleasant associations and symbolism she has.
Okame tattoos may be especially popular for men- as she is supposed to bring good fortune to the man she marries!
Getting a tattoo of someone is almost like marrying them, some would argue it’s more permanent!
Speaking of marriage, Okame is rarely seen without her partner Hyottoko.
These two character masks are paired together in Noh theatre productions, and are still associated together in modern art.
So much so that many people who get Okame tattoos will get a Hyottoko tattoo as well.
Often times, you will see Okame on one arm and Hyottoko on the other.
Hyottoko is a comedic character, and his appearance lends itself to the comedy of his scenes.
He is sometimes referred to as “fire man” because his mouth is puckered to one side of his face- giving him the illusion that he is blowing on a fire.
One of the legends of Hyottoko says that as a child he was a funny faced little boy who could produce gold from his belly button!
Hyottoko and Okame make a pleasant pair, and some people will keep statues or charms of the two together to bring happiness to their home or business.
Common Themes in Okame Tattoos
Okame is not Okame without her round cheeks, smiling expression, and jet black hair with rosy cheeks and lips.
She is often paired with Hyottoko, but you may also see tattoo designs with just Okame.
Sometimes, Okame is surrounded by flowers, or other happy feminine symbols.
Not sure you want an Okame tattoo?
It’s OK, there are other ways to invite this goddess to smile upon you.
It is common in weeks leading up to the Lunar New Year to infuse some extra good intentions into your home.
Okame is a perfect companion for this kind of work, and indeed can be (respectfully) called upon year round to bring her positive vibes to your living space.
One ritual includes taking a broom and tying good luck charms to it.
Sweep all the negative energy (and dust) from all the corners of your house toward the center.
Imagine yourself sweeping away everything you do not want, and sweeping in everything you desire.
As you do this, concentrate on each space in your house, and ask Okame to bring good fortune to you there.
Okame Tattoo Ideas
Okame is a sweet character who brings good fortune to people’s lives.
Because she is a fairly uncomplicated character, you can probably think of a few positive female icons to compare her to.
It can be fun to find a figure that means something to you or your background personally.
Certain it’s got to be an Okame tattoo for you?
Check out our gallery for some sweet inspiration!