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What's the deal with Kanji t-shirts/tattoos?

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What's the deal with Kanji t-shirts/tattoos?

Postby Pianogirl123 » Wed 11.02.2011 3:29 pm

Obviously they are very popular, I see them a lot in my daily life as an American going to college, and having recently gone to high school. I notice many people, especially on japanese language community sites such as these seem to have... sorry if I'm rude but it's true... people have a *passionate* superiority complex about calligraphy being done by native japanese or chinese or whatever. Same sometimes goes for other cultural arts such as sushi making. I can't tell you how often I've seen comments like "it was ok restaurant. the chefs weren't japanese, but..." or "white people don't look good in kimonos." No, no, no!

I believe that talents are not passed out at birth based on a person's country of origin. There are people from other countries who are just as able to master japanese arts as Japanese people.
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Re: What's the deal with Kanji t-shirts/tattoos?

Postby furrykef » Wed 11.02.2011 4:23 pm

I don't think you'll find any such attitudes here. Though apparently there are rumors to the contrary, we're pretty level-headed.

However, it is true that Japanese people will usually make better calligraphy than, say, random western tattoo artists, but that's because random western tattoo artists do not give a crap about calligraphy and so they have not studied it. Anybody who has done something for decades and has an interest in it will be better than somebody who has done something for a year and does not care. There was a similar phenomenon with art in the late 90's or so... anime was the hot new thing, so a bunch of artists started drawing "anime", but they were inexperienced and their hearts weren't necessarily in it, so the result was often a hybrid style that appealed neither to fans of the western or anime styles. But, of course, good western kanji tattoo artists and anime artists can exist. It's just that there are many more who aren't good at it.

So sometimes there's something to it.
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Re: What's the deal with Kanji t-shirts/tattoos?

Postby Shiroisan » Wed 11.02.2011 6:19 pm

I also find that white people rarely look good in Kimonos. Unnatural or something.

Does that make me racist? I think it's more of an aesthetic appeal than anything else :D But it always makes it look like the white person is just dressing up for a play or a halloween party or something.
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Re: What's the deal with Kanji t-shirts/tattoos?

Postby micahcowan » Wed 11.02.2011 6:45 pm

Shiroisan wrote:I also find that white people rarely look good in Kimonos. Unnatural or something.


I have to agree (no offense to the regulars here who have photos of themselves in Kimonos). Particularly light-haired folks, I think. It jumps out at my eye in a way that Japanese in kimonos just don't (and not in a good way). But of course, as you say (Shiroisan), it's merely aesthetics. I don't give a damn if you're white and want to wear a kimono, I just wouldn't personally, at least under normal circumstances.

As to tattoos... the idea of Japanese characters in western-style tattoos is probably weird enough to Japanese. But as far as I can tell, there are vastly many more poorly-done kanji tattoos than there are properly-done ones. Even if they don't technically mess up either the translation or the characters themselves, there's usually something at least a little bit off about the balance of elements in the characters, of size between the different characters, or of spacing between the characters. Japanese/Chinese calligraphers have had a lifetime of practice writing the characters; it's to expected that a western tattoo artist who only does Asian "calligraphy" in the form of the occasional tattoo job would look amateurish in comparison.

For shirts... I don't think I've heard complaints about T-shirts, mainly because most of the T-shirts I've seen with kanji on them, use a font (and so the writing is fairly professional). But of course for hand-drawn calligraphy, most of the same arguments apply as for tattoos.

Pianogirl123, you said "especially on japanese language community sites such as these"... as far as I know, I haven't heard anyone on this site express the sentiments you describe. The most common caution is that (a) you should be aware of the stigma tattoos carry in the Japanese culture (mainly Japanese-style tattoos, but it still applies to western-style ones to at least some degree as well), and (b) it's far easier to screw up a tattoo of some Japanese or Chinese phrase, when either (or both) you or the artist lack an intimate familiarity with both the language and its writing systems.

If you've seen sites like Engrish.com, you are probably already familiar with how humorous translations from Japanese to English can be, when done by less-than-perfect English speakers(/writers). Even though, in many cases, the translation is actually technically, literally accurate (sometimes word for word, sometimes sentence for sentence, but carrying unfortunate connotations you won't find in a dictionary). Who could be naive enough to believe that the same couldn't be true for translating from English into Japanese?
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Re: What's the deal with Kanji t-shirts/tattoos?

Postby Hektor6766 » Wed 11.02.2011 9:15 pm

It's all about respect for the culture. If you eat at a Greek or Tex-Mex restaurant where they're just throwing Gyros or Tacos together for a market niche and a buck, you can tell that from the family restaurant where they take pride in their cultural cuisine. T-shirts are fine if the kanji are in context. If a fair-haired Westerner is respectfully taking part in a ceremony or festival, I'm fine with that. As for tattoos, beside the fact that only the anti-societal elements have them, authentic Japanese tattoos don't utilize kanji, and a tattoo that does is simply co-opting the language, and not showing the culture any respect. Frankly, tattoos symbolize brutishness everywhere, hence their popularity with gangs and fascist skinheads. I support the Japanese rejection of this dehumanizing "art form".
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Re: What's the deal with Kanji t-shirts/tattoos?

Postby AJBryant » Fri 11.04.2011 9:50 pm

Shiroisan wrote:I also find that white people rarely look good in Kimonos. Unnatural or something.

Does that make me racist? I think it's more of an aesthetic appeal than anything else :D But it always makes it look like the white person is just dressing up for a play or a halloween party or something.


I agree. And all those Japanese guys in suits just look wrong to me, too.

:roll:
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Re: What's the deal with Kanji t-shirts/tattoos?

Postby Shiroisan » Sat 11.05.2011 7:57 pm

AJBryant wrote:
Shiroisan wrote:I also find that white people rarely look good in Kimonos. Unnatural or something.

Does that make me racist? I think it's more of an aesthetic appeal than anything else :D But it always makes it look like the white person is just dressing up for a play or a halloween party or something.


I agree. And all those Japanese guys in suits just look wrong to me, too.

:roll:


That's totally different, one is ancient culture being kept alive and the other is something that we all do, all the time, in the modern age. Of course it's commonplace for them to wear suits like we do >.>
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