The Hannya Mask was originally used in Japanese Noh theatre to portray the souls of women who had become demons due to obsession, jealousy or being wronged by their husband. Noh is a classical Japanese theatre that incorporates traditional plays, music and lavish costumes. All actors in a Noh play are male and have the masks therefore to represent different characters.
The Hannya mask traditionally was carved from wood is a type of onryo mask. There are many types of onryo masks, by the end of the 20th century there were over 200 types which represented the six main characters used to portray elders, old men, males, females, demons and spirits. While onryo masks can represent both genders, the Hannya mask is solely for female characters. The oldest Hannya mask can be dated to 1558.
The Hannya mask is said to be demonic and dangerous but also sorrowful and tormented, displaying confused human feelings of passion, jealousy and hate causing the transformation of women into this terrifying monster. The mask when worn and looking straight ahead appears frightening and angry; when tilted slightly down, the face of the demon appears to be sorrowful, as though crying.
Traditionally the mask would appear in various colours representing status, a white mask indicates an aristocratic woman, a red mask depicts a low-class woman, and a deep red mask depicts the true demons. Each mask possesses two sharp bull-like horns, metallic bulging eyes, and a leering mouth split from ear to ear.
In Japan, the Hannya mask is a popular symbol for good luck, and is believed to ward off evil spirits from the home. The Hannya mask as a tattoo can be a stand-alone piece or incorporated into a larger, more elaborate Japanese tattoo design, as just one in many elements that make up the story being depicted.