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Why TJP doesn't help with Japanese Tattoos

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It is important to first point out that the Chinese character tattoos currently trendy in the West and real Japanese tattoos are two completely different, unrelated creatures.

Despite what many westerners might think about Japan’s perception of tattoos, real Japanese tattoos in Japan are considered taboo or associated with crime by the general populace. This fad capitalizes on the current popularity of Asian culture in general, and of Japanese culture specifically. Getting a tattoo of beautiful script from a distant and ‘mysterious’ culture seems to be quite trendy these days.
True Japanese tattoos are typically full-body works of art incorporating historical and mythical imagery drawn using traditional artistic styles. The roots of Japanese tattooing goes back almost 2000 years; however the practice fell into disfavor during 7th century Japan due to the large adoption of Chinese culture. Later around the 17th century tattoos were used to identify criminals. In modern day Japan many locals have taken into their hands to shun people with tattoos out because of its association with criminal acts. Many local baths, pools and spas do not permit people with tattoos to enter or openly display their works. Generally, a person who has a tattoo will have trouble if they need to purchase a life insurance policy in Japan. Even though they can buy a life insurance policy, in Japan it is considered legal that a life insurance company can refuse an insurance payment for an insured person who has a tattoo. And Japan's hospitals will often times refuse an MRI exam for a tattooed person because several types of tattoo ink can cause a burn on their tattoo.

Asian character tattoos have become a sore spot for all of us here at TJP. There are several reasons for this:

To begin with, tattoos are meant to reflect a part of the wearer’s personality. Having a well-thought out and meaningful design permanently engraved on one’s body can certainly be beautiful and expressive. The problem is, what does it say about your personality when you are completely ignorant about the meaning, nuance and subtle beauty of the image tattooed into your skin? We here at TJP have no desire to participate in someone else’s ignorance and stupidity.
Another important point is that a poorly designed and written character tattoo does nothing but ridicule and demean the cultures from which they originate. We here at TJP invest much (if not all) of our lives to diligently studying the language and culture of Japan. The last thing we want to do is participate in any act that cheapens what we work so hard to appreciate and understand. If you can’t make the effort to learn about the Japanese language, then don’t ask us to do it for you in the name of what amounts to little more than a trendy fashion statement.
Phrases that you think might sound cool in English are very often in fact, usually ridiculous once translated into Japanese. "Shadow Warrior," "Spirit Woman" or "Free Spirit" might sound nice in English, yet anyone who can read Japanese would laugh at any one of these those translations and neither you nor your friends can understand your tattoo’s real meaning. Even well-thought out, well-researched and well-designed tattoos can be subject to mistakes during the tattoo process. The chances your tattooist does not read Japanese or Chinese is most likely 100%. He or she therefore has no idea whether or not they are properly writing the characters. Even minor errors can change your "Proud Warrior" script into "Proud Dirt." There have even been numerous examples of characters being tattooed upside down or in mirror-reverse. Just take a moment to imagine smiling ever so proudly as you show off your cool character tattoo that you think reads "Angel," all the while not realizing that it's an upside-down version of "Heaven’s Butt.” Just because someone told you that your character tattoo means "I dance with death," does not mean it does.

Related pages

Tattoos in Japan


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