How Shoko Tendo’s tattoos transformed her life and inspired mine
Simply Magical. It is not every day that a book inspires you with such courage and strength to face the difficulties of your life.
The book I’m referring to is Yakuza Moon, which was written to reflect the life story of the author Shoko Tendo. She was born in 1968 into a family headed by a yakuza or Japanese mobster father, she went through an arduous upbringing after falling into bad company at a tender age. Descendants of 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 Yamaguchi-gumi, the largest yakuza group, he led a “classic” yakuza life replete with Italian suits and fast imported cars.
To be fair, Dad never really talked about his yakuza business while at home and raised Tendo to have impeccable manners.
But surrounded by bad influences, Tendo failed her school education early, became a yankee gangster or teen, and lost her virginity to her first boyfriend when she was barely in high school. And as if her life wasn’t hard enough, she became addicted to thinner snort and “speed” or marijuana, and she ended up in reform school after getting caught up in a gang fight.
Eight months later, she was released only to learn that Dad became seriously ill with tuberculosis. Her family was in utter chaos, cowed by daily visits from rowdy debtors amid mounting debts. In a state of numbness and denial, she continued her usual dose of drugs, mixed with bad company, suffered multiple incidents of rape, and engaged in casual seedy sex at “love hotels.”
In short, she had become a total rebel who wandered aimlessly from one day to the next, 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 took on a different perspective at the age of twenty-one when an old acquaintance took her to a tattoo shop. Although she was exposed to irezumi or full body tattoos throughout her life, it was the first time that she felt so deeply about skin art. Transfigured and true to her character, she impulsively decided to tattoo herself from the base of her neck 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 dragon tattoo.
Interestingly, ever since she got the tattoos, her attitude has completely changed and taken on a whole new meaning. Such was the emotional power and influence of tattoos that they can turn a person devastated by a harsh upbringing overnight. Literally empowerment came when she got herself tattooed.
Then, on her twenty-second birthday, she married a yakuza member who had to cut off his left little finger to prepare for their marriage by leaving his gang. However, the joyous occasion for her had a bittersweet aftertaste for her, as the previous day she had been raped by her possessive and mentally unstable ex-boyfriend.
Soon after, she was forced to abort her first child because she and her husband were too poor to raise one. The reality was extremely harsh for both of them.
But the cruelties of life did not end there. Two days after receiving her first salary as a married woman, her mother suffered a massive stroke and died shortly thereafter, without recovering. Depressed by hit after hit in life, she broke down and attempted suicide using sleeping pills. Fortunately, the hospital staff rescued her and she received the news that her father was dying of stomach cancer. God help her!
The loss of both parents finally brought Tendo to his senses. Determined to put her sordid past behind her, she devoted her life to work, marked by the opening of her first savings account at age thirty. In fact, she eventually managed to save enough to buy her parents decent and proper burial plots.
Now in his mid-thirties, Tendo is completely free of his troubled past and leads a happy life with his young daughter, something Tendo has been resigned to not having for a long time. Her life story has taught us to fully appreciate and treasure our loved ones.. Compared to what she went through, most of the problems we face are simply too insignificant. Remember: No conflict is too much to resolve – quickly.. Unfortunately, her tattoos on her will remain, a clear and vivid reminder of her wild days. I wish him well.