For those of you interested in deepening your understanding of Japanese tattooing, the best advice I can give is, once again, “Go to the roots, not to the fruits”.

In our studies of Japanese aesthetics and craftsmanship (within the reasonable limits as non-natives), we need to first explore their way of life and folklore with the utmost respect for a foreign culture. Of course we are inspired from contemporary artists that reached peak levels of excellence but doing that without a minimum understanding of the characters and context, will create an output empty of meaning, a copy of a copy.

Where to start then?

Accessing the original texts can be difficult if we don’t speak japanese. Nevertheless nowadays there are many valuable translations and studies available and, if you are serious about it (remember, nothing truly valuable comes without a bit of struggle), it’s worth spending some time researching your sources. One of these is the Sankai ibutsu.

The Sankai ibutsu and the Shan-hai jing

[extract from Sankai ibutsu: An Early Seventeenth-Century Japanese Illustrated Manuscript, by Masako Nakagawa – Villanova University]


“This exquisite volume introduces 47 mythical creatures from ancient China.

These creatures consist of mythical beings, hybrid forms, strange animals and fish. The elaborate illustrations of each creature in landscape settings with full colors and gold paint are complemented by short explanatory texts. The Shan-hai ching is the closest parallel in Chinese literature to the medieval Latin bestiaries and books on marvels and monsters. The Shan-hai ching is considered to have once been the text for an illustrated geographical map and was classified as a geographical work until the T’ang dynasty. It was said that mythical creatures had been depicted on the map which were lost.

Mythology and Sankai ibutsu

Many of the 47 creatures of the Sankai butsu are in a hybrid form. In the ancient world animals were regarded with admiration and affection until the eighth century B.C.E. when they became man’s potential enemy largely due to the development of agriculture as a primary occupation. Especially, many of the hybrids found in volume one of the Sankai ibutsu are partially a human form and belong to the category of shen, holy spirits attached to particular localities.


Michael Loewe points out the following two principals for formation of such hybrids:


  1. Identification of man with the animal world

Tribal ancestors were traced to animals; attempts were made to make contact with the animal spirits of another world by means of physical assimilation.


  1. Euhemerization

Man was transforming his image of a mighty being from animal into human forms; the myths and gods of an earlier origin were transformed into beings of authentic history.”

Use as reference

From these kinds of documents, we can deduce vital information on how to portray certain characters from some of the earliest and most accurate sources.

For example, at page 33-34 of the above quoted article (LINK BELOW) we can read about the Baku:

In the mountains of the south, there lives a beast. It has an elephant’s trunk, the

eyes of a rhinoceros, an ox’s tail, and a tiger’s paws. Its body is yellow and black, and is called the Mo [tapir]. By sleeping on its pelt one can ward off pestilence. [*In Japan “‘Mo” -Jap. Baku- is believed to devour bad dreams.]

 A man should make a sketch of the Mo in order to be protected

from evil. It eats copper and iron but nothing else.”


PEAK: secrets from the new science of expertise

In this book by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool, the authors debunk the myth that natural talent is the main factor in the success of experts and world-class performers

They argue that the real secret to success lies in the adaptability of the human brain and the practice methods used to develop new skills.

While some individuals may have certain genetic advantages, there is no such thing as a predefined ability. The brain is flexible and capable of rewiring itself through deliberate practice, allowing individuals to create skills that did not previously exist.

They outline three different approaches to practice: naive practice, purposeful practice, and deliberate practice.

Naive practice relies on repetition alone and often leads to a plateau in skill development.

Purposeful practice involves setting specific goals and focusing on areas of weakness.

Deliberate practice takes purposeful practice a step further by incorporating insights and techniques from the best performers in a given field.

The authors emphasize the importance of mental representations in skill development. Mental representations are cognitive structures that help individuals make sense of complexity and identify the correct course of action. Through deliberate practice, individuals can develop more effective mental representations, leading to improved performance and the ability to learn new skills more quickly.

To accelerate progress, the authors offer practical tips such as:

– finding a good teacher,

– focusing on quality over quantity,

– identifying and addressing areas for improvement,

– trying different approaches when faced with roadblocks,

They also highlight the importance of getting enough sleep and mixing up practice routines to avoid getting stuck on a plateau.

Deliberate practice, rather than innate talent, is the key to becoming an expert. By understanding the adaptability of the brain and following the above mentioned principles, we can unlock our full potential and achieve success in any area we choose.