The Hyottoko is a character from the Noh theater of Japan, who makes you laugh through his facial expression and gestures. His face is painted red with white accents to represent laughter. He is usually depicted as a pot-bellied man wearing traditional Japanese clothing, an obi sash around his waist, and straw sandals called zori. He typically carries a fan or paper streamers in his hand to make him look silly, and has a pipe or sake jug in his mouth.
The Hyottoko is believed to have originated from the Japanese court of the Emperor Kammu (737-806). During that time, Japan’s capital was located at Nara. The emperor would amuse himself by dressing court jesters in various costumes. When the capital was moved to Kyoto, this custom continued. The Gagaku court musicians at the Imperial Court began writing songs which referenced the Hyottoko character. Over time, the Noh drama was developed and Japan’s first professional actor, Kan’ami (1333-1384), popularized the Hyottoko character.
In most traditional Noh plays, Hyottoko is called on stage to perform a short skit or dance, and is then followed by another character for a longer scene. His antics are meant to bring levity into the drama being performed. In “Izutsu” (“Tortoise Mountain”), the Hyottoko is formed from a pot and two men inside. He comes out to dance, but soon becomes fascinated with a mirror and will not stop looking at himself. Another character in the play takes the mirror away from him.
So, what does a tattoo of Hyottoko mean ?
In modern times, it’s quite common for people to get tattoos of Hyottoko on their legs and arms. He can be seen as a symbol of laughter, amusement, happiness and sometimes drunkenness.
The Hyottoko tattoo meaning is meant to bring merry-making experiences into your life. It’s fairly common for people to report feeling happier after they get this tattoo. I’ve also heard from quite a few people that they felt more outgoing and social after getting this piece.
Given his chubby, pot-bellied appearance, the Hyottoko tattoo has also become associated with sumo wrestling. Many sumo wrestlers have tattoos of Hyottoko on their backs or arms. Other people use this tattoo to symbolize good luck in games of chance like pachinko or bingo.
Lucky number 8 is also associated with the Hyottoko tattoo, due to his round belly and facial features being similar to a sake jug. This could be why some people get this tattoo inked on their wrist or ankle, so it’s visible while playing pachinko or wearing sandals.
Some people choose to get the Hyottoko tattoo inked on their back or upper arms, with his face pointing downwards (or up). This is meant to symbolize their cheerful attitude affecting those around them. I’ve seen people wearing the Hyottoko tattoo as a belt buckle design, which they say represents laughter ‘reminding’ them to stop and enjoy life more.
The Hyottoko tattoo is most commonly colored in red and black, but also appears with green or yellow facial accents. His face sometimes has outlines, which make his features stand out more prominently. Some people like adding Japanese lettering around the character (like “kon” for ‘laugh’). The Hyottoko tattoo is often accompanied by other Japanese symbols like the pine tree (for longevity), a sake jug, a lucky cat, or a fu dog.
Although Hyottoko’s facial features can look silly to some people, they symbolize a positive attitude in life which will help you overcome obstacles and have more fun in your daily activities.
The Hyottoko tattoo design is also one of the most popular tattoos among sumo wrestlers (or rikishi). I hope you enjoyed learning about Japan’s famous symbol of laughter. Keep this article in mind next time you go out to get a tattoo, and maybe you’ll come across this piece! Thanks for reading 🙂