The character portrayed in this traditional mask from Noh theatre is called Hyottoko (from Hi Otoko, later contracted into Hyottoko) which literally means “fire man”. His mouth is puckered and his expression is captured as he blows on the fire.

Su Jang, Horitatsu Family, Daegu, South Korea
Su Jang, Horitatsu Family, Daegu, South Korea

In some parts of Japan he is venerated as the god of fire, but his features are more in keeping with a figure from Japanese folklore: the boy in the legend from the Iwate Prefecture, for example, who was able to create gold from his belly button, or the old fisherman in a story told through music and dance in other parts of the country.

Monta Morino, Up Rise Tattoo, Tokyo, Japan
Monta Morino, Up Rise Tattoo, Tokyo, Japan

He is a much-loved subject in tattoo, usually portrayed with bushy eyebrows and moustache, one eye squinting, a scarf tied around his head, and the unmistakable grimace of the puckered, skewed lips.

Max May, Santa Rosa Tattoo, Santa Rosa, USA
Max May, Santa Rosa Tattoo, Santa Rosa, USA

The comical round face of Hyottoko has been chosen by many as a tattoo in the past and continues to be very popular, giving tattoo artists the world over a chance to come up with their own interpretation. At times the tattoo is faithful to tradition, but sometimes there are influences from styles ranging from Traditional to Cartoon. He often makes an appearance in broader compositions, while at times he is portrayed alone.

Take a look at our Gallery to choose the Hyottoko you like best!