Many that makes an ukiyo-e artist unique is his

Many unspoken rules in the traditional Japanese society governed the behavior of its citizens. The difference in classes, gender roles, and professions dictated the direction of life for people, many times with little deviations from a mostly fixed track. The protagonist of The Tattooer, by Junichiro Tanizaki exhibits a strange behavior, likely stemming from the social status he partakes in. Seikichi, the main character, is a tattoo artist. In his past, however, he was trained to be a ukiyo-e painter, but a falling in his apprenticeship caused Seikichi’s social status to fall to the position of a tattoo artist. To understand the context of Seikichi’s situation, it is important to understand the roles of tattoos in Japanese society and the influence of ukiyo-e painters. Ukiyo originates from the Buddhist teaching of the transitionary nature of life, which translated to mean the “floating world” in the context of the language and culture of the time. This was available widely to anyone who could afford the various woodblock prints that became very popular in the era. The style of painting of the ukiyo-e movement focused on pleasurable activities with interesting landscapes as backdrops (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2003). One of the characteristics that makes an ukiyo-e artist unique is his ability to paint from the soul. Traditionally, to become a painter of this style, one must follow an apprenticeship under a master of the art. Seikichi had a falling at some point with his master, which caused him to fall in the ranks, and was “demoted” to a tattoo artist. Before analyzing the effect of the Seikichi’s falling on his behavior, we must understand the influence tattoo art had on the Japanese society. The styles of ukiyo-e and tattooing developed alongside each other, where characters from ukiyo-e woodblock art would be copied by tattoo artists and exaggerated and would then influence more art, and so on. They had further similarities in the way that both sets of artists were referred to as hori, which means, “to carve” (Mitchell, 2014). While both styles of art were similar in its artistic design, its execution and canvas were the biggest differences. The demotion from an artist to a tattooer had a severely negative effect on Seikichi, even though he was still considered a well renowned tattoo artist. With ¬¬exposure to western cultures in the late 18th century, the Japanese felt they must not continue the culture of tattooing to appear more civilized in a world they were very far behind in (Yamada, nd). Seikichi developed a form of anger which he expressed in form of admitting to getting pleasure from inflicting pain on the bodies of the men he would tattoo. Being pushed into a field of art that was becoming tabooer and frowned upon, given how close he was to be a part of a more respected class citizen in his society caused several emptions to clash in Seikichi, leaving him with much to be desired, unable to feel satisfaction with his work, and with feelings of pleasure coming from inflicting pain on his customers. Perhaps in lacking the ability to present his work on a canvas or woodblock as he had been trained to, Seikichi seeks vengeance through inflicting pain onto others, while also feeling dissatisfied with his work. To compensate, he seeks the “perfect canvas” for his work, a beautiful woman. The story of The Tattooer revolves around him finding the woman he considers his perfect canvas, but the root of his behavior that leads him to that position stems from the social construct that governs his society, and the characters disdain for falling down the social hierarchical scale rather than climbing upwards (Tanizaki, 1910). Another story that highlights the effect of the social norms on a character’s behavior is the Life of a Sensuous Woman, by Saikaku. The text could be considered somewhat scandalous, as it focuses on the life of an aging woman, and her previous life as a prostitute and her other roles in life. Through the story we discover the protagonist’s past as a prostitute, and the effect that had on her social standing in both the Japanese society and her personal life. For one, we see her express regret for having missed opportunities for love in her life. We see the standard women were held in society as well, and how they were utilized as objects for the advancement of wealth and status. For example, a young girl in Japanese society could be given up by her parents so that she may be selected as a mistress by a lord or a person of a higher status as a route to greater wealth. Feeling there was no redemption to make right the missed opportunities of her past, the aging woman turns to Buddhism, which had influenced the Japanese life in some respects, in order to achieve some accomplishment that she would be at peace with (Saikaku, 1686).  We see in both stories the limiting nature of the societal structures on the protagonists. For Seikichi, we saw how the demotion to tattoo artist placed him in a feeling of anger, dissatisfaction, and lusting for more. His life was decided by the fact that he was unable to be a ukiyo-e artist, so he never felt that he could reach an audience the he would have been able to as an artist. To compensate, he developed the intense desire to find the perfect canvas to present his work, a beautiful woman, since he may have thought that would make a better impression than a work that was becoming less popular and frowned upon in his society. We could also see this from the point of tattoo art at the time the novel was written, in 1910. Since this form of art was being pushed out of Japanese society, to show western cultures that japan had more to offer than tattoo art, it could be interpreted that the characteristic behavior of Seikichi originates from the public sentiment from the suppression the government was trying to force on this style of art. For the aging woman, we saw how the path she took led to regret and to not pursuit happiness. We also see the effect she had, because of her profession, on the men she interacted with throughout her life, and their eventual downfalls. The message the downfall of the men in the aging woman’s life shows that overindulgence in any pleasure may have damaging results. For a person of power, it may have been easy and pleasurable to have the aging woman at a time when she was younger as a mistress, but the effects on his home-life with his wife and family may have been affected negatively. Women in this sense were treated as objects, though in certain positions, respected since a mistress must have been well mannered, well presented, and available to only those in power. Regardless, as we saw through the aging woman, though at one point she felt she had life at her fingertips, with endless opportunities, she continued down a path in which she was limited to pursue personal love, or happiness for that matter, which she later comes to peace with through religion. 

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