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Why TJP doesn't help with Japanese Tattoos

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Revision as of 04:20, 27 October 2006 by Mukade (Talk | contribs)
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I think Japanese tattoos are kind of a sore spot for all of us. Therefore, when one comes asking "what is the kanji for [love/peace/eternity/strength/death metal]? it's for a tattoo so get it right!" they might receive a less-than-warm response.

The thing with tattoos is, 1) they're permanent, and 2) they are supposed to reflect a part of yourself. That's why people, you know, permanently engrave them in their bodies. I don't think there is any argument that a tattoo is supposed to be meaningful and expressive. So, what does a tattoo in kanji/Japanese say about the person who is sporting it?

If the wearer is studying Japanese/Chinese, comes from Chinese/Japanese/kanji-using ancestry, and/or chooses the character themselves for the personal meaning it holds, that would be a pretty awesome tattoo, with a lot of meaning. It would say something about that person's personal qualities and how they view themselves.

However, if someone has no inside knowledge of Japanese/Chinese, simply wants a symbol because it's 'cool', and/or (most of all) can't even tell if the character is written correctly or how it's pronounced in its native language, what meaning and personal characteristics does that tattoo portray? Ignorance, stupidity and trying to be 'cool' (basically, a sellout or poser).

To recap:

-- Kanji carefully selected by the wearer, using an intimate knowledge of the characters and their meaning: portrays the feeling of an Asian scholar expressing themselves through Chinese characters

-- Kanji chosen because it looks cool or 'my friend said it means this': portrays the feeling of an illiterate who can't even read something that is supposed to be meaningful to them.

Understandably, when these types of people come here, they often get treated like someone who can't even read their own name, because essentially that is what they are saying about themselves.

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

True Japanese tattoos are typically full-body works of art incorporating historical and mythical imagery and drawn using traditional artistic styles. The roots of Japanese tattooing go back almost 2000 years, but the practice has recently passed into disfavor in contemporary Japan due to its association with the underworld.

On the other hand, the Chinese character tattoos that many Westerners think of when they hear ‘Japanese Tattoo’ is a very recent fad. 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.

These Chinese 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.

Other Points to Consider:

-- Just because someone told you that your character tattoo means ‘I dance with death,’ doesn’t mean it does. For all you and your tattooist know, those characters read ‘Kung Pao Chicken.’

-- 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, but anyone who can read Japanese would laugh at the translations of any one of these. And since neither you nor your friends can understand your tattoo, the only people who can understand it will be laughing.

-- Even well-thought out, well-researched and well-designed tattoos can be subject to mistakes during the tattoo process. Chances are high (close to 100%, in fact) that your tattooist doesn’t read Japanese or Chinese. The tattooist therefore has no idea whether or not they are properly writing the characters you have chosen to permanently imprint upon your skin. Even minor errors can change your ‘Tar Heels’ tattoo to ‘Bug,’ or your ‘Proud Warrior’ tattoo to ‘Proud Dirt.’ There have even been plenty of examples of characters being tattooed upside down. Just take a moment to imagine, if you will, smiling ever so proudly as you show off your ‘cool’ character tattoo that reads ‘Angel,’ all the while not realizing that it's and upside-down version of ‘Heaven’s Turd’. . .

--Mukade 00:20, 27 October 2006 (EDT)

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Tattoos in Japan

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