How Shoko Tendo’s Tattoos Transformed Her Life And Inspired Mine

Simply Magical. It is not everyday that a book inspires you with so much courage and strength to face the difficulties in your life.

The book which I am referring to is Yakuza Moon, which was written to reflect the life story of the author Shoko Tendo. Born in 1968 into a family headed by a yakuza or Japanese gangster Dad, she underwent an arduous upbringing after falling into bad company at a tender age. Descended from medieval gamblers and outlaws, the yakuza were long portrayed as latter-day samurai, bound by traditions of honor and duty while living extravagant lives. Dad was the gang leader linked to the Yamaguchi-gumi, the largest yakuza group, led a “classic” yakuza life replete with Italian suits and imported fast cars.

To be fair, Dad never really spoke about his yakuza business while at home and brought Tendo up to have impeccable manners.

But surrounded by bad influences, Tendo flunked her early school education, morphed into a yanki or teenage gangster and lost her virginity to her first boyfriend when she was barely in junior high school. And as if life wasn’t tough enough, she became addicted to thinner-sniffing and “speed” or marijuana, and ended up in a reformative centre after getting caught in a gang fight.

Eight months later, she was released only to learn that Dad fell seriously ill with tuberculosis. Her family was in total shambles cowering from daily visits by rowdy debtors amid mounting debts. In a state of numbness and denial, she continued her regular fix of drugs, mixing with bad company, suffered from multiple rape incidents and engaged in casual sordid sex in “love hotels”.

In short, she had become a total rebel drifting aimlessly from day to day, and – get this – she was barely eighteen then. It was the kind of growing pains that would move any reader to tears.

Life for Tendo then took on a different perspective at age twenty-one when she was bundled into a tattoo shop by an old acquaintance. Though she was exposed to irezumi or full-body tattoos throughout her life, it was the first time she had felt so deeply about skin art. Transfixed and true to her character, she impulsively decided to get herself tattooed from the base of her neck down to the tips of her toes, with a design centered on a geisha with a dagger in her mouth. And on each of her arms was a tattoo of dragons.

Strangely, since getting the tattoos, her attitude took on a complete change and a whole new meaning. Such was the emotional power and influence of tattoos that they can turn a person ravaged by a rough upbringing around overnight. Literally, empowerment came when she had herself tattooed.

Then on her twenty-second birthday got married to a yakuza member who had to chop off his left pinky in order to prepare for his marriage by leave his gang. However, the joyous occasion had a bitter-sweet aftertaste for her as she had been raped by her possessive and mentally unstable ex-boyfriend the day before.

Shortly later, she was forced to abort her first child as she and her husband was simply too poor to afford raising one. Reality was extremely harsh on the both of them.

But the cruelties of life did not quite end there. Two days after she received her first paycheck as a married woman, her mother suffered a massive stroke and died shortly thereafter, without recovering. Depressed by blow after blow in life, she caved in and attempted suicide using sleeping pills. Luckily, she was rescued by hospital staff only to receive news that her Dad was dying from stomach cancer. God help her!

The loss of both parents finally brought Tendo to her senses. Determined to leave behind her seedy past, she plunged her life into work, marked by the opening of her first saving account ever at thirty years old. In fact, she eventually managed to save enough to buy her parents proper dignified burial plots.

Now in her late thirties, Tendo is completely free from her turbulent past and leading a blissful life with her young daughter, something which Tendo had resigned to not having for the longest time. Her life story has taught us to cherish and treasured fully our loved ones. Compared to what she went through, most of the problems we faced are simply too insignificant. Remember: No conflict is too much to be resolved – swiftly. Unfortunately, the tattoos on her will remain – a stark and vivid reminder of her days of being wild. I wish her the best.