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IzzyBird, weaving details

Izzy Bird, tattoos



As Isabella is taking in a cliffside shrine,* Benri, the chief of these Ainu, returns. He is a “square-built, broad-shouldered, elderly man, strong as an ox, and very handsome, but his expression is not pleasing, and his eyes are bloodshot with drinking.”

She has been in this village long enough that the glamour of savage life, as she puts it, has worn off. The grinding poverty is obvious now, as is how dull and routine just trying to stay alive is. But she seems to find beauty in the Ainu, which she doesn’t see in the poor of her own country, because the Ainu are “truthful, and, on the whole, chaste, hospitable, honest, reverent, and kind to the aged.” They do, however, drink a lot but because it is part of their religion, it seems like it would be hard to break them of.

It’s here that Isabella shows that she is a woman of her age — and goes on to describe the Ainu as she would a newly discovered plant, which is to say: in great (but dull) detail. Like, say, the average head circumference of the 30 men in the village (22.1 inches) or that their ears are small and set low.

But: a couple of highlights:

Tattooing is part of their rituals, and most have a broad band above and below the mouth, a band across the knuckles, a pattern on the back of the hand, and a series of bracelets extending to the elbow. The tattoos begin at age five and are done by cutting the skin and rubbing soot in the wound.***

Kids aren’t given names until age 4 or 5. The instant a baby is born, seeds of millet are put in his or her mouth. Boys are preferred to girls but both are highly valued. They are weaned at age 3, more of less.

The kids are universally adored and are, she says, beautiful. At least until the tattooing starts.


* It’s the Yoshitsune Shrine** and Isabella believes she’s the first European to ever stand inside it. They ask her to worship the god, but she declines because she will only worship “God, the Lord of Earth and Heaven.” They don’t force it. Ito, being Japanese, has many, many gods and willingly plays along.

** I want to go there simply so that I can write something useful about it and put it on Trip Advisor because what is there is less than helpful.

*** which seems really unsanitary


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