Okina Mask Tattoos
The Okina mask has a special place in Japanese traditions.
Like many masks that have become popular in Japanese art & festivals, Okina has his roots in Noh theatre.
Noh is the oldest form of theater that is still being performed today.
In a Noh production you will have the main story-line, a drama in 5 acts.
Typically the story is narrated by a character who is said to be a supernatural creature, manifested in human form to share the tale.
In between each act, audiences take in a short, comedic play known as Kyōgen.
Modern productions have only 2 acts with one Kyōgen between.
Though people’s attention spans may be shorter, the reverence for traditional theater is still alive.
The masks are used to make each character type distinct, and to make expressions visible from very far away because of how well it is carved.
Many theater schools teach mask work, wherein an actor has to hold their body and tilt their face a certain way to make an inanimate mask come to life.
Though it only wears one expression when it is just laying there, a theater mask can look so many different ways depending on angles and the way the light hits it.
An Okina mask is an interesting tattoo, because it is the oldest Noh theatre mask as far as historians know, and it has a lovely meaning.
What Does the Okina Mask Look Like?
You’ve likely seen an Okina Mask, or something inspired by it, without even realizing it.
Though there are 450 different masks, each is distinct with its own name.
Each mask is carved from the Japanese cypress and painted with pulverized seashells or other minerals.
There is a special kind of reverence for the Okina mask. He is an old man with a pleasant expression.
The demure smile on Okina’s face causes his cheeks to wrinkle, showing his age.
Okina typically has round, apple-like cheeks and red lips.
His eyes are scrunched up so that they look like two crescent moons, adding to the friendly expression.
He often has two pom pom like tufts of hair on either side of his chin, a pronounced brow bone with forehead wrinkles, and a long, thin chin beard.
Okina is generally a pale character with paper white skin.
What Does the Okina Mask Represent?
Okina roughly translates to “old man” and “venerable.”
To be venerable means you are greatly respected because of your wisdom, expertise, and years of experience.
At times, Okina is thought of as the earthly embodiment of God.
Because of his old age and pleasant demeanor, this character is thought to bring prosperity and a long happy life to people, especially families.
Interestingly, the play that focuses on Okina is considered a part of Noh theatre, while also being separate from it.
What is an Okina Play?
Many Noh theater productions are tied to Shinto Gods and Shinto traditions, but an Okina play is a Shinto ritual in and of itself.
It is very different from a traditional Noh play.
For one, the characters assume their masks on stage, shattering the fourth wall illusion.
The characters wear ritual robes rather than costumes, the chorus is placed differently on the stage, and two extra drummers are brought in to the orchestra.
An Okina play can be performed before a Noh production to manifest peace and prosperity.
During the Edo period in Japan, this rite was performed every school day before classes began.
These days it is still performed in schools, but usually only for special occasions like the Lunar New Year.
It’s important to keep all this history in mind if you consider getting an Okina mask tattoo.
It does have a deep meaning to people who practice the Shinto religion, which is the most commonly practiced belief system in Japan besides Buddhism.
The Okina play consists of ritual dances by each of the 3 characters involved in the ritual.
These characters are of course the white faced Okina, joined by the young man Senzai, and an old man with a black mask named Sanbaso.
Before entering the stage, each mask must be honored in a shrine and a designated “mask bearer” will rub flint stones together toward the stage, purifying it with the sparks.
Performers eat special foods backstage to get their bodies ready for the performance.
The dances in the ritual symbolize longevity, great leadership, a balance between the spiritual world and this earthly plane, and fertility on the land.
Once the ritual is completed, if a Noh production is to take place, the two extra drummers exit and the chorus moves to its traditional place.
Common Themes in Okina Mask Tattoos
Okina mask tattoos are generally done in the traditional Japanese tattoo style with bold lines to accentuate the details.
You won’t typically see this design done in a more cartoon-ish style, due to the reverence around Okina.
Okina Mask Tattoo Ideas
If you practice the Shinto religion or have deep ties to it because of your ancestry, an Okina mask tattoo can be a wonderful homage!
If not, you may want to consider a wise old man character from your own lineage, most mythologies have one.
Dedicated to the idea of an Okina mask?
Check out our gallery for some beautiful designs.