Traditional Japanese masks tend to be ornamental and are sold at shrine festivals and celebrations. Others are worn at certain Shinto dances or by actors playing a role on stage.
Most of these masks are archetypes borrowed from myths, ancient dances or Noh theatre, and they have become some of the most popular Japanese masks you will see today.
The history of wearing masks in Japan for religious rituals is estimated to date back to the Jomon period, an era that lasted from 10,000 BC to 300 BC.
Crude masks made of shells and simple pottery evolved during the Kofun period from the 4th to 6th centuries. Following the emergence of Buddhism and Korean cultural practices in the 6th century, the use of masks was extended to secular activities.
Gigaku masks, those that covered the totality of the head, have been used in dance performances, however their prevalence faded away when the Edo period came to an end in 1868. Kagura dance performances, on the other hand, where the masks cover only the face, have survived and are still performed today.
The Hannya mask is a classic of Japanese tattoos and as tradition dictates also in this case it was inspired by folk tales and legends. It is represented with a large head equipped with horns, two wide eyes that stare and scrutinize the viewer and the open mouth ready to devour or at best swallow whoever is in front.
"Hannya" is a Sanskrit word that means "wisdom", "virtue" is the path that leads to enlightenment.
The meaning of this tattoo, however, is not strictly related to the legend, therefore to the figure of the woman turned into a demon as a result of blind jealousy and anger due to the betrayal of her lover, but it is said to "drive away evil spirits and bring good luck to people who wear them on their skin".