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April 9, 2004 12:06 AM   Subscribe

Chicagoans show off their kanji character tattoos. We Chicagoan's know our hot dogs. Kanji characters, not so well. Japanese tattoos don't always mean what their wearers think they do. With the assistance of Mariko Sasaki, a researcher at the Consulate General of Japan in Chicago, we examined the tattoos of five Chicagoans. [via Chicago Tribune] Login: anonymous/anonymous
posted by KevinSkomsvold (95 comments total)

 
The mark of an idiot is a chinese/japanese symbol tattoo.
posted by pemulis at 12:08 AM on April 9, 2004


My dad beat me 'cause mine said "Mother"
But my mother naturally liked it and beat my brother
'Cause his tattoo was of a lady in the nude
And my mother thought that was extremely rude


Welcome to my life, tattoo!

posted by interrobang at 12:23 AM on April 9, 2004


The mark of an idiot is a chinese/japanese symbol tattoo.

Including those who happen to be Japanese or Chinese?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:28 AM on April 9, 2004


I think they're only the mark of an idiot if the person can't read them. That's where I draw the line, anyway.
posted by mosch at 12:55 AM on April 9, 2004


Maybe the author was inspired by this piece of satire: "Disgruntled Asian Tattoo Artist Inks His Revenge".
posted by gluechunk at 1:13 AM on April 9, 2004


I can't really speak about Chinese people, but pretty much the only Japanese people who have tattoos at all are gangsters, who all have ornate tattoos of gang symblos, dragons, and crap like that, and young punk-ass wannabes (called yankees as it turns out) who usually get English if they get a language, although that English is often as off-base as the Japanese in these examples. And from my perspective, it is in general safe to label members of these two groups idiots.
posted by donkeymon at 1:23 AM on April 9, 2004


I love seeing these stories. A couple of my coworkers were passing around pictures of one that said "baka gaijin" (stupid foreigner), in Seattle several years back, there was a tattoo artist who would give free tattoos for what he thought was "revolution" only to find that it meant leather, and, there are always others...

I would feel pretty stupid if I were any of those people, but they would have to be pretty stupid to walk into a shop and say something like "yeah, i want something, like...philosophical, and stuff...in your language, to help me pick up chicks without bothering to learn anything about your language or culture".

To be fair, here in Tokyo I saw a guy with tattoos in gothic lettering that said "Ruin Mans" across his knuckles. Gotta love the Engrish.

Also, as part of my job, I often have to come up with subhead translations in english, most recently on April 1st, I had to have something catchy for a section on nutrition, the original Japanese was a bit awkward, but among my serious suggestions I put down "eat yourself beautiful," which they ultimately chose.

preview de, donkeymon: Totally.
posted by lkc at 1:43 AM on April 9, 2004


The mark of an idiot is a chinese/japanese symbol tattoo.

I have to say, I think that this is over harsh. Particularly considering that many people get themselves inked at an impressionable time in their lives when they've not really thought through the consequences.

'Sides which, y2karl said it best some time ago...

posted by dmt at 3:12 AM on April 9, 2004


same story with images at sun-sentinel
posted by dabitch at 3:20 AM on April 9, 2004


I read somewhere that Britneys Japanese kanji (?) tattoo meant something like "odd" rather than "unique" as she thought it did...
posted by dabitch at 3:27 AM on April 9, 2004


Wow, a real Seven Yen Mary and this ain't even a Navy town....Oh, wait, there's Great Lakes NTC....
posted by alumshubby at 4:51 AM on April 9, 2004


A someone who sports a bit of ink myself, I find this endlessly hilarious. I can't tell you how many angst kids I ran into in the 90s who got Red Hot Chili Peppers-inspired native American tattoos or else got wiccan symbols. When asked what they meant, the response was usually: "Uhh, I dunno, I just thought it was a cool symbol." Equally amusing was the girl I met who had the string of dancing bears tattooed as an anklet. When I prompted, "really? I had no idea you were a Grateful Dead fan," she had utterly no idea what I was talking about.

I wonder if there is a Chinese rocker kid out there somewhere sporting a swastika because he thinks it's a cool symbol.
posted by psmealey at 5:50 AM on April 9, 2004


For general interest: Dumbest.Tattoos.Ever. [mildly nsfw]
posted by psmealey at 6:02 AM on April 9, 2004


I saw a guy on the subway with a kanji tattoo that he probably thought meant "peace." Well, it sort of does, but it also means "cheap". I was going to ask "how much?" but the tattoo was applied over some impressive-looking muscles.
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 6:05 AM on April 9, 2004


psmeasly,

Come to Hong Kong. I haven't seen any kids with Nazi tattoos, but quite a few wear tee shirts with the swastika, usually accompanied by the phrase: Helmut Lang training camp.

Madame Tussaud's on the Peak even has a wax likeness* of Adolf Hitler in a gallery called "Hall of the Great People."

A store called Izzue even tried a Third-Reich clothing line and theme a while ago and got ripped for it.

So, Chinese kids with a swastika tattoo? Anything is possible.

*Self-link - my apologies, but no one else seems to have noticed this but me.
posted by bwg at 6:10 AM on April 9, 2004


Psmealey, keep in mind that the swastika was around for a much longer time than the Nazis who appropriated it and gave it some ugly connotations which have nothing to do with it's original, beneficially protective meaning. Swastika's can be found in various cultures around the world, including China.

My tattoo was a gift to myself on my 30th birthday. I took a long time selecting it and, while it's quite a simple image, it was definitely the right one for me.
posted by onhazier at 6:10 AM on April 9, 2004


If I got a kanji tattoo at all, it would certainly be something along the lines of "stupid white guy" or "lame wannabe" or something. Then when people ask I can say it means "soul" or whatever.
posted by ODiV at 6:11 AM on April 9, 2004


Hazy weather, super-friends, with a significant chance of duh.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:13 AM on April 9, 2004


The best tatoo I've seen in the last couple of years was the fellow who got the entire Cherokee alphabet done on his right bicep. Looks pretty cool to me.
posted by Mo Nickels at 6:15 AM on April 9, 2004


onhazier, I'm right there with you, on that. Just trying to make the point that if one is going to mark one's self permanently, one should really do one's research.
posted by psmealey at 6:17 AM on April 9, 2004


The best tattoo story I have to claim: A friend got a tattoo on her shoulder in arabic. What she thought it meant was "STONG".

At a BBQ one day an Iranian friend commented on the tattoo asking what it meant. My friend promptly responded with "Isn't it great, it means strong."

Iranian friend replied, "In Pharsi it means brown."

As it turns out, it was infact Pharsi and actually was the word for brown coffee or strong coffee.
posted by bmxGirl at 6:21 AM on April 9, 2004


I saw a woman with a kanji tattoo on the back of her neck a little while back. It was clear she was trying to get the character for "peace" (not the same one as Mr Bunnsy referred to), but the tattooist had left off a crucial stroke, resulting in a nonsense character that, if anything, would be read as a variant of the "apricot" character.

I debated with myself whether to point this out to her. In the end, I did not.
posted by adamrice at 6:40 AM on April 9, 2004


I have no way to verify this, but a friend told me of a girl who had some chinese characters tattooed around her navel. She thought they meant "Beautiful Goddess" or some such.

In reality, they spelled out "Insert General Gao's Here."

May not be true, but, seriously, I think "Insert General Gao's Here." is a statement we can all stand behind.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:43 AM on April 9, 2004


Insert General Tso's Here
posted by apathy0o0 at 7:16 AM on April 9, 2004


didja hear about the girl who got a chinese character tattoo on her lower back?

yeah, it was the character for "cliche".
posted by bonheur at 7:16 AM on April 9, 2004


thanks for the link mo nickels. the story of the cherokee syllabary is unique.
on topic, it sounds a little awkward to say "japanese kanji" since kanji (??) literally means chinese characters.
posted by Treeline at 7:18 AM on April 9, 2004


wow -- so there's a one-to-one english translation for every single kanji character? there's no possible way that some kanji characters might be able to represent more than one word or concept? or, for those that you allow might have more than one meaning, the best way to interpret them is with the english word that's maximally unflattering to the people who have them?

i have a kanji character that had as its meaning "mysterious" when i looked it up. i asked a chinese person i knew what she thought it meant -- after i got it done -- and she said that it meant "strange." but using the line of reasoning i see some people applying in this thread, the best way to interpret it is actually "weird" or "fucked up" simply b/c those are meanings that reinforce the idea that any non-asian person who gets a kanji character is an idiot. excellent.
posted by lord_wolf at 7:19 AM on April 9, 2004


I always said that if/when I got a tattoo I would get the Kanji symbol for "lo mein" or "tempura" (or something along those lines). Nobody would know that it didn't have deep meaning like "massive kill", and for those that did know what it meant it would be a conversation-starter. 'Course that's reflective of my sense of humor. I also seriously considered getting Marcel Duchamp's "Treason of Images" on my arm.

When I actually did get my tattoo (at Mom's Tattoos in Haight-Ashbury, on my honeymoon) they had many symbols like that in their catalog. In the end I got something everybody else thinks is stupid but has great personal meaning for me, so I don't show it off and don't care that everybody looks at me weird when I do.
posted by arco at 7:22 AM on April 9, 2004


"unreliable delivery service"

heh heh... mr. timothy bass better hope he doesn't have a career as a pizza guy...

ODiV - i'm with you on that, i've thought it would be pretty funny for a while now to have a t-shirt with "stupid barbarian" on it in kanji. looks cool to those who don't know, looks funny (hopefully self-depracatingly funny) to those who could read it.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:22 AM on April 9, 2004


if one of 32423 bands I'm in ever hit it big, I'm going to get the home keys across my knuckles.
posted by mcsweetie at 7:29 AM on April 9, 2004


I think the consulate dude is lying too, and the tats all actually say "sucker," or "I am an idiot trendy gai-jin."
posted by jonmc at 7:30 AM on April 9, 2004


(did I say Duchamp? I meant Magritte.)
posted by arco at 7:31 AM on April 9, 2004


damn, my post came out somewhat angrier than i intended.

sorry, y'all: started my day off with an argument with my girlfriend. damn, i wish it were beer-thirty. (now that would be a cool tattoo to have in any language.)
posted by lord_wolf at 7:32 AM on April 9, 2004


i guess my aum over ying yang fusion tat makes me an idiot, a gangster, a wannabe, or culturally insensitive...

the difference between those with tats and those w/o is that we could care less that you don't have one...oh, wait, how zen...i can't possibly comprehend that, i'm not asian...

i hope the "artist" who intentionally used wrong images in his tat work was arrested...who made him culture cop?
posted by aiq at 7:39 AM on April 9, 2004


lord_wolf: English is somewhat unique in that it has many many words for each concept, encompassing a range of meaning. I'm not sure about Chinese, but Japanese generally only has one or at most two words, and the shade of meaning is determined by context.

Thus, a character or word seen by itself usually calls to mind the simplest meaning, which is not as cool-sounding as the English-speaker intended. I know someone who has the character for what she says is "distant." The dictoinary defines it as "far." So sure, you can pick any English synonym you want, but Chinese and Japanese readers will think of the most basic one.
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 7:40 AM on April 9, 2004


lord_wolf, I'm one of those idiots they're talking about too. i got the chinese symbols for "I Dare" tattooed on my shoulder not too long ago. before i got the tattoo, i was fanatical in making sure it said what i thought it said. when i finally got the ink, i was still sick to my stomach showing it to my friend wen-lei whose lived most of his life in china. i waited with ever-growing dread for him to burst out laughing and tell me it said "dumb american." but he didn't, and i love the tattoo-- despite it's perceived clichedness. it's my favorite one of all.
posted by jodic at 7:43 AM on April 9, 2004


i hope the "artist" who intentionally used wrong images in his tat work was arrested...who made him culture cop?

May not have been intentional in all cases: I've heard that there's been a bit of a decline in Kanji literacy in native Japanese (can any of the in country Mefites confirm or deny?). Maybe the artist just couldn't remember the right character.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 7:46 AM on April 9, 2004


lord_wolf: ...any non-asian person who gets a kanji character is an idiot.

That pretty much sums it up. Especially if they think it's their first name and it really says "unreliable delivery service".
posted by botono9 at 7:47 AM on April 9, 2004


Does someone want to translate the "I want a japanese girlfriend t-shirt?"

Someone I know has it (no its not me) and hes been told twice it says something more like "I want to have sex with japanese schoolgirls."
posted by skallas at 7:48 AM on April 9, 2004


i hope the "artist" who intentionally used wrong images in his tat work was arrested

It may comfort you to know that the source for that story is a satirical publication, whose copyright warning says that "any use of real names is accidental and coincidental".

...it's just a joke...
posted by aramaic at 8:02 AM on April 9, 2004


the difference between those with tats and those w/o is that we could care less that you don't have one...

Actually, I've found that the bigger difference is that those with tats are really attention starved and want more than anything for dumb non-tats to come up and ask "did it hurt?" so they can give them dirty looks and act just so put out.

But hey, broad generalizations are cheap, no?
posted by botono9 at 8:04 AM on April 9, 2004


the difference between those with tats and those w/o is that we could care less that you don't have one...

Well, since you're speaking for all tattoo wearers (owners?) let me speak for all the unmarked people in the world.

We don't care if you have a tattoo. We really don't. But if you have a tattoo that looks stupid, or says something different than you thought it did, or indicates your blind allegiance to following cheesy trends, then we are going to make fun of you - just as if you had left the house with your underwear on outside of your pants.
posted by Jart at 8:10 AM on April 9, 2004


I always wanted a tattoo that says "bad motherfucker". I mean how cool is that.
posted by geoff. at 8:13 AM on April 9, 2004


then let me speak for all the marked people in the world.

we don't care what you think.
posted by jodic at 8:13 AM on April 9, 2004


aiq - quite a few cultures give tattoos a very specific meaning. certain symbols or patterns, etc., when used by those with no grounding in that culture, can be seen as offensive or sacrilegious. there are those who feel that it is inappropriate to give symbolic tattoos to outsiders, and refuse to do so. some people copy a tattoo pattern or design because they think it is cool, unique, etc. and have an artist give them what amounts to a soulless design - either a mistranslated symbol or something that is almost but not quite meaningful to those who can interpret it.

i for one would not get a native american, maori, samoan, etc. style tattoo unless i was damn sure that someone within that culture was both the one giving it to me and felt that i was worthy of the design, and that i had full awareness of the significance of the symbols. note that this does indeed (in my mind) also extend to the manner in which the tattoo is applied - if you do it the traditional way, and have it done by a traditional artist of the culture in question, you have gone a long way towards earning the design.

it's not just a matter of cultural sensitivity, it's a matter of understanding. i don't want to brand myself with a hollow echo of a design because i wasn't careful enough to inform myself about the meaning and significance. if you go into it with full knowledge and the blessing of the one doing the tattoo, it becomes much more than a cool design you thought would be neat to ink on your skin.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:26 AM on April 9, 2004


wow -- so there's a one-to-one english translation for every single kanji character? there's no possible way that some kanji characters might be able to represent more than one word or concept? or, for those that you allow might have more than one meaning, the best way to interpret them is with the english word that's maximally unflattering to the people who have them?
Actually, no. In different contexts, or in combinations with other characters, a given character can mean many different things. I'm guessing the character you got is "myou" (unfortunately, MeFi won't let me type Japanese here). In combination with some other characters, it can even mean "miraculous," but taken in isolation, a Japanese speaker would just read it as "strange."

We have a roughly similar problem in English. What do "rose" "set" and "lie" mean? You can't say without some context for their use, but your first guesses might be "a flower" "a group of things" and "a falsehood."

As to the T-shirt on J-list: it's pretty straight "Seeking Japanese Girlfriend" in the style of an employment classified listing.
posted by adamrice at 8:27 AM on April 9, 2004


we don't care what you think

This seems like a good time to restart the recent PETA vegetarian-vs-carnivore wars, but with a new inky spin! I'd go first, but I'm plumb tuckered out from the last go-round, so someone else can bust a move....
posted by aramaic at 8:27 AM on April 9, 2004


skallas: literally, it means:

"japanese [person]"
"girlfriend"
"recruitment [in the middle of, currently]"

So, it's pretty straightforward, I'd say. A bit formal than something you'd actually *say*, FWIW. (nihonjin no kanojou wo sagashiteiru, perhaps...)

On preview: what adamrice said.
posted by armage at 8:39 AM on April 9, 2004


All people everywhere do stupid things that always pisses everyone else off.

Interesting thought: a tattoo that says "bad motherfucker" in Kanji

I wonder what the approximate Kanji translation of that would be? Mother castigating son for his poor lovemaking technique?
posted by psmealey at 8:46 AM on April 9, 2004


lord_wolf that mysterious/strange/weird kanji you speak of sounds a lot like the one Britney and her best friend has (according to a rubbish tabloid in Sweden anyway). My stupid tat story: this. Never heard of the band, stumbled onto a drunk fan who had one too, our conversation was pretty funny as he spoke of the band and I spoke of the symbol. Please don't say 'nice tribal." ;)
posted by dabitch at 9:06 AM on April 9, 2004


it sounds a little awkward to say "japanese kanji" since kanji (??) literally means chinese characters.

My understanding is that Japanese kanji are based on Chinese kanji, but many of the symbols are altered and are not identical in both languages.
posted by me3dia at 9:08 AM on April 9, 2004


I've heard that there's been a bit of a decline in Kanji literacy in native Japanese

This is certainly true. Educational authorities blame this on the widespread use of furigana, phonetic hiragana characters that often appear as superscript above kanji. Readers quickly get into the habit of just reading the furigana and ignoring the kanji, so they get less practice in reading (and therefore absorbing) the kanji.

It's also worth pointing out that remembering kanji is hard. Differences between characters can be subtle, and it takes a lot of practice for the brain to readily distinguish between similar characters. Japanese students spend a much larger percentage of their time studying kanji than Americans spend on spelling, yet immediately begin to forget kanji once their intensive study ends. My Japanese friends in America find it difficult to recall certain kanji after living here just a few years.
posted by SPrintF at 9:22 AM on April 9, 2004


Yeah I've heard a lot of people who think "only asians should have asian tattoos" which I think is a bit silly, like is it okay for someone who's asian to have a Celtic design?

I think it's okay if someone picks out a design for the sole reason they just think it "look neat", but for some reason people get upset if the person hasn't memorized some speech about the historic and cultural signifigance of their tattoo.


Dabitch: Biohazard right?
posted by bobo123 at 9:25 AM on April 9, 2004


Interesting thought: a tattoo that says "bad motherfucker" in Kanji

I wonder what the approximate Kanji translation of that would be? Mother castigating son for his poor lovemaking technique?


I am going to be laughing all day from that!
posted by vignettist at 9:25 AM on April 9, 2004


bobo123, right. :)
posted by dabitch at 9:27 AM on April 9, 2004


A question for those who know Japanese here: Was it correct for the guy in the link to even get his name, Timothy, in kanji? Should it not have been in katakana?
posted by crank at 9:33 AM on April 9, 2004


In Japanese the words "kan" and "ji" translate to "Han (meaning Chinese)" and "character(s)", which identifies the writing system being used. "Chinese kanji" would be redundant - usually it's just "Chinese characters".

I really have no problem with people getting tattoos from different cultures, as long as they get them done right.
posted by casarkos at 9:35 AM on April 9, 2004


I'm glad it's just satire, but this line made me laugh despite myself:

“I think I’m helping my fellow man by labeling all the stupid people in the world,” he explained. “It’s not a crime, it’s a public service."
posted by callmejay at 9:38 AM on April 9, 2004


Educational authorities blame this on the widespread use of furigana, phonetic hiragana characters that often appear as superscript above kanji.

Furigana appear in books and comics for children, but the vast majority of the 1945 Joyo kanji in common use are written without furigana in newspapers and books. While many people have forgotten how to write kanji since the advent of computers, the average Japanese high school graduate does not rely to furigana to read 99% of printed materials.
posted by dydecker at 9:39 AM on April 9, 2004


My sister has a tattoo for the word "Woman" on her belly.

It's a pretty cool idea all and all but she went to China recently and found that the same symbol is used to designate the women's restroom. She did get some laughs from some locals who pointed this out to her...
posted by aaronscool at 9:53 AM on April 9, 2004


I think it's okay if someone picks out a design for the sole reason they just think it "look neat", but for some reason people get upset if the person hasn't memorized some speech about the historic and cultural signifigance of their tattoo.

I have three tattoos -- two of which I got just because I liked how they looked -- so I'm definitely not one of the 'deep cultural and personal significance' sticklers. But I am under the impression that most non-Asian people who get kanji tattoos wouldn't think of getting the same word or phrase inked on themselves in English. I mean, you don't see a lot of college students walking around with "peace" tattoed on their necks in Times New Roman. I guess I've always assumed that most non-Asians with kanji tattoos have them because they feel that kanji is inherently deep or mystical, as if the expression of an ordinary English word using the alphabet of an 'exotic' culture somehow gives it extra meaning. That's why it sort of rubs me the wrong way.

Of course, this is all based on a lot of assumptions, so any of you who have personal experience with this should feel free to tell me I'm full of crap.
posted by purplemonkie at 9:55 AM on April 9, 2004


My understanding is that Japanese kanji are based on Chinese kanji, but many of the symbols are altered and are not identical in both languages.

You're right, some kanji are altered from "hanzi" and usage has changed over the centuries. Hiragana characters are altered hanzi/kanji.
My point was that the characters for 'kan' and 'ji' are chinese for 'han' and 'zi' meaning chinese characters. I tried to post them but they turned into question marks. bleh.
posted by Treeline at 9:55 AM on April 9, 2004


Was it correct for the guy in the link to even get his name, Timothy, in kanji? Should it not have been in katakana?

The guy was incorrect to write his name on his body anyway, writing it in kana isn't going to save him.

The problem is that "Takueemei" doesn't sound like his name. He should have maybe chosen three kanji with the sounds "chi" "mo" and "shi".
posted by dydecker at 10:01 AM on April 9, 2004


Using a single kanji as a tattoo is silly for anyone who is Asian.

The Japanese use it as a root, and typically most kanji are used in conjunction with hiragana if you want a specific meaning rather than the root meaning.

In Chinese, which is what kanji is, a single character also tends to have a root meaning. Very few characters stand alone, and those are typically imbued with too much meaning to have it tattooed onto someone. If you want a specific meaning, you typically have a two-character word.

I would say the only tattoos you could possibly have involving Chinese characters (or kanji) would have to be a complete phrase, such as a haiku, or a line in a Chinese poem, or simply your name.

And no, not the way Timothy did it... he made the error Coca Cola made years ago when they first released Coke to China and simply used a phonetic translation, ending up meaning "Bite the wax tadpole" or "Female horse stuffed with wax"... they finally figured it out and changed the characters out (the sounds are about the same), and now it means "Happiness in the mouth".

Kentucky Fried Chicken has an excellent Chinese name, which means something like "Foundation of virtue and cultivation".

As for Timothy... he'd have been better off figuring out what "Timothy" meant, then figuring out the closest meaningful Japanese name. Or picked the right characters.
posted by linux at 10:09 AM on April 9, 2004


The guy was incorrect to write his name on his body anyway, writing it in kana isn't going to save him.

That's exactly what I mean... who gets tattooed with their own name? And why does writing it in kanji make it any less dumb?

Perhaps it's just not for me to understand. I'm gonna go bite a wax tadpole.
posted by purplemonkie at 10:13 AM on April 9, 2004


Never heard of the band, stumbled onto a drunk fan who had one too, our conversation was pretty funny as he spoke of the band and I spoke of the symbol.

You might be interested to know that symbol is also worn by some HIV-positive gay men. Since it's the medical symbol for "biohazardous material." (Or maybe you already know this. Just pointing out for others that having that tattoo, in a gay bar, is basically announcing to the room that you're HIV+).
posted by dnash at 10:47 AM on April 9, 2004


"Love - OW!" is hysterical. :)

I have a tattoo that can't be seen unless you're a very close friend and have some reason to be looking at my naked hips. Well, I guess it could be seen in a bathing suit, but I wear those little skirty suits, so it doesn't show when I'm at the public pool. Mine is Sam I Am holding a platter of Green Eggs and Ham. It has a fairly deep meaning for me...that I won't bore you with, but I love my little Sam, and I don't think I'll ever regret getting him. :)

I think the silliest tattoo I've ever seen on another person was at one of the first lollapalooza tours. There was this little, hairless, concave-chested kid walking around shirtless...and emblazoned on his chest, in 3 inch gothic letters was the phrase "I SUFFER". I laughed and laughed and laughed. But I'm cruel like that. ;)
posted by dejah420 at 10:49 AM on April 9, 2004


linux: re: KFC in China. You mean it's not "The House of the Venerable and Inscrutable Colonel"? I'm crushed.
posted by wobh at 11:02 AM on April 9, 2004


I decree that anyone who henceforth gets a tattoo of anykind, should be forced to get another tattoo stating "I am a conformist who thinks he's a maverick. Laugh at me."
posted by jonmc at 11:21 AM on April 9, 2004


wobh:

That's the old name.

But along with KFC in America, it is now Kendeji.

We must all blame the state of Kentucky for the loss.
posted by linux at 11:23 AM on April 9, 2004


In response to jonmc, by way of wobh: Can't we just tattoo the phrase "POOR IMPULSE CONTROL" on their foreheads?

For what it's worth, I've always wanted to get the tattoo which my sister recommended, block letters stating "Hey! Look at my piercing!"
posted by mmcg at 11:32 AM on April 9, 2004


Even between Chinese and Japanese there are differences in meaning.

In San Jose there's a pearl tea shop called Tong Chang Tea. The "Tong" character is this*, which in Japanese generally means "stupid".

After a few visits I got the nerve to politely ask the owner about that first character. He said it means something like "fanatical" in that context, i.e. really serious about making tea.

My affectionate nickname for the place (but never in the owner's presence) is "Stupid Tea".

(And my own nickname - Kurumi, meaning "walnut" - turns out to be a girl's name. Google Image Search gives some surprising results.)

* you'll need Japanese support to read this page
posted by kurumi at 11:40 AM on April 9, 2004


This reminds me of an excellent art installation I saw years ago at the Sackler here in DC. Hundreds of pages of neat Chinese calligraphy...but all of it nonsense.

(Tattoo thread, you know I had to get in here somehow...)
posted by JoanArkham at 11:41 AM on April 9, 2004


Since Chinese characters have subtle meanings even among Chinese, let alone the Japanese and Korean use of these characters, I still think any sort of tattoo has to be a long phrase or lyric. This makes it clear to the reader what language is used.

Of course, very few people put a slew of characters along their arm or back... and instead assault Asian eyes.

kurumi, that means sickness in the head, which can mean stupid. I'm not sure how you get fanatical out of it. That's usually this.
posted by linux at 11:51 AM on April 9, 2004


Addendum:
I suppose it's a slang term for being fanatical.

After all, there are a slew of odd Chinese slang words, such as mother box, chicken, and hitting the airplane (the first two are for "prostitute", the third decreases your chances of getting prostrate cancer).
posted by linux at 11:53 AM on April 9, 2004


In response to jonmc, by way of wobh: Can't we just tattoo the phrase "POOR IMPULSE CONTROL" on their foreheads?

Implying that anyone who gets inked does it on the spur of the moment? I can't speak for everyone, but I thought about my tattoo design and placement for nearly five years before I got it.

But I am under the impression that most non-Asian people who get kanji tattoos wouldn't think of getting the same word or phrase inked on themselves in English.

Possibly true, purple monkie. I have the phrase "we're all mad here" written on my shoulder blade (ironically enough, considering the rest of your post) in a stylized version of Times New Roman. Always wanted it in English, never considered it in any other language, actually. On the other hand, I am planning on having a classic Roman sword done with the Latin word "Veritas" written on it.

But I digress. What I find interesting is that this tattoo trend of getting words/phrases/what-have-you put on one's self seems to only extend to using kanji. How many people have "mysterious" or "peace" tattooed on them in say, German?
posted by BurnedEve at 12:30 PM on April 9, 2004


arco: I got my tattoo at Mom's in the Haight also (by a bleached-blonde visiting artist). Coincidentally, it is a Kanji tattoo with multiple meanings, but I did my research first: the variations in meaning are mostly just differences of connotation. I change what my tattoo says based on my mood, and I never have to lie.

The artist also told me about a biker guy who came into the shop once to get "White Power" on his wrists....in Kanji. Needless to say, the Chinese guy who provided the translation took license with it, and the biker ended up walking around with something akin to "Shitface" on his arms.
posted by quasistoic at 12:39 PM on April 9, 2004


this thread seems to be touching on a very old argument: who gets to own, participate in, and enjoy a culture?

i'm of the opinion that the only way for cultures to avoid becoming inbred and stagnant is for people who weren't born in the culture to influence it and be influenced by it. sure, some people who adapt (or adopt?) things from cultures other than those into which they were born are going to look stupid and get things wrong. but some people care enough and admire the other culture enough to at least make a good faith effort (not always successful) to get it right, so i don't understand why everyone who attempts to embrace something outside themselves needs to be viewed with disdain and derision.

i really hope those of you who are arguing that only people with certain genetic material can get asian characters tatooed on themselves don't listen to blues or soul music or gospel spirituals sung and performed by anybody but black people.

also, none of you who aren't from the indian subcontinent should be practicing yoga.

additionally, people from outside of the american south should never make fried chicken, biscuits, or grits.

i also hope that those of you who have scorn for non-asians getting asian tattoos check the kitchen staff of the "ethnic" restaurants you go to in order to make sure all the cooks are of the appropriate genetic material and ethnicity to be preparing the food. because anybody from outside the culture who tries to prepare the food is an idiot who's doing it wrong, correct?

further to that, you should also make sure you are eating the food in exactly the manner and in exactly the same circumstances in which the originators consume it. (for instance, i've read that some japanese view the way americans eat sushi akin to the way we would view them putting ketchup on the outside of a hamburger).

because if you're not doing these things, i really don't see how you're all that different from the people you're heaping scorn upon. that's all i've got to say. enjoy your upcoming weekends and your easter celebrations (for those of you who celebrate that holiday).
posted by lord_wolf at 12:41 PM on April 9, 2004


I decree that anyone who henceforth gets a tattoo of anykind, should be forced to get another tattoo stating "I am a conformist who thinks he's a maverick. Laugh at me."

Doesn't this same thing apply to yuppies who buy Harley-Davidson motorcycles?
posted by psmealey at 12:41 PM on April 9, 2004


Not that they should get a second motorcycle... maybe just a license plate frame with that motto on it.
posted by psmealey at 12:45 PM on April 9, 2004


lord_wolf:

I have no problems with Chinese characters or kanji being used as tattoos. Hell, I'm not even East Asian, I just happened to get stuck there doing graduate research. But participating in a culture means learning about it first, not just cheapening a deeply symbolic word to satisfy a whim.
posted by linux at 12:51 PM on April 9, 2004


Apropos of nothing, the guy who designed the Aphex Twin logo likes the Kanji, an obsession which started with Sique Sique Sputnik.

Do people who want a tattoo have a t-shirt printed with the design on first, wear that for a month or so, then decide to go ahead with the permanent addition. Or is it not about that?
posted by asok at 1:01 PM on April 9, 2004


I think that anyone who gets a tattoo of words that they can't read is an idiot.

If you want a tattoo in Japanese and you're not Japanese, learn to read Japanese first. If you want a tattoo in English and you don't speak English, I'm going to laugh my ass off at your "Ruin Mans".

Why would anyone want a tattoo they couldn't read? What would be the point?
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:11 PM on April 9, 2004


don't understand why everyone who attempts to embrace something outside themselves needs to be viewed with disdain and derision.
Not everyone does. However, when someone with an obviously superficial understanding of another culture decides to appropriate a token from that culture and have it embedded semi-permanently in his skin--and then reveals that he's unintentionally appropriated the wrong thing--well, he's inviting ridicule.
posted by adamrice at 1:19 PM on April 9, 2004


I decree that anyone who henceforth gets a tattoo of any kind, should be forced to get another tattoo stating "I am a conformist who thinks he's a maverick. Laugh at me."

wow, jonmc...you're obviously so intelligent that you have a firm grasp on the reasoning behind every person who has ever gotten a tattoo. you must have amazing insight into the human mind. obviously they do it simply to show off at how edgy and maverick they are. there could be no other reason. you're a brilliant man.
posted by m@L at 1:26 PM on April 9, 2004


wow, jonmc...you're obviously so intelligent that you have a firm grasp on the reasoning behind every person who has ever gotten a tattoo.

Actually if you read carefully, you'll note the word "henceforth." I have several close freinds who are covered in tattoos. When they got them back in the day, it took some balls and courage to do something so frowned upon by mainstream society. These days, getting a tattoo is like buying a pair of pants at the fucking Gap.

obviously they do it simply to show off at how edgy and maverick they are.

In my experience, especially among younger people, that's generally true. Same goes for body piercers, label whores, and people in trucker hats who don't drive trucks.

"Other reasons" are immaterial to me and generally speaking they're a cover for "I wanna do what that cool kids are doing." I just loathe unoriginal thinking and smugness.
posted by jonmc at 1:46 PM on April 9, 2004


this thread seems to be touching on a very old argument: who gets to own, participate in, and enjoy a culture?

i'm of the opinion that the only way for cultures to avoid becoming inbred and stagnant is for people who weren't born in the culture to influence it and be influenced by it. sure, some people who adapt (or adopt?) things from cultures other than those into which they were born are going to look stupid and get things wrong. but some people care enough and admire the other culture enough to at least make a good faith effort (not always successful) to get it right, so i don't understand why everyone who attempts to embrace something outside themselves needs to be viewed with disdain and derision.


In addition, as time goes on and cultures merge and meld, symbols, words, items, and even gods are often adopted into the emerging culture(s), and then adapted to fit within the new ideological framework. I was raised Catholic, but I'll be celebrating the festival of an ancient pagan spring goddess named Eostre this Sunday.

By a similar token, designs taken from foreign cultures and embedded within the context of our own (in the form of tattoos or what-have-you) could be looked upon as new symbols whose meanings are ascribed by those who are performing the adoption. Radical changes in meaning often occur through those cross-cultural transformations.

It could happen that well-meaning mothers in the future name their children "UPS on a bad day" because etymologically it means Timmy.
posted by quasistoic at 1:50 PM on April 9, 2004


Timothy should have looked here.
posted by linux at 2:21 PM on April 9, 2004


I think the whole point is to get wrong tattoos. The whole history of languages is one of words coming to mean something completely different or opposite of its original meaning. See the etymologies and histories of the words virtue which now means the chastity of woman and used to mean manly courage. And also aftermath whose origin refers to the finished product of a mowed lawn.

It is these linguistic bridges that will bring languages and cultures closer together. That is unless you subscribe to the rather hilarious academie-francaise school of thought.

On preview, what quasistoic said....*8^)
posted by nasim at 2:45 PM on April 9, 2004


I'm of the opinion that the only way for cultures to avoid becoming inbred and stagnant is for people who weren't born in the culture to influence it and be influenced by it.

For what it's worth, I think that the opprobrium being heaped on the heads of those with Kanji tats is starting to look rather oversold in this thread. Perhaps though that’s because I’m considering having a tat in Arabic of which I can speak all of about 50 words and read about a dozen.

lord_wolf, I think that what people are reacting negatively to is a perceived lazy, uninformed cultural imperialism wherein the culture of ‘sensual Orientals’ is taken out of context by those in ignorance of it and reduced to a set of sloppy, reductionist clichés which don’t hold up to critical analysis. I think that it was these notions that Edward Said was railing against in Orientalism and in his book later in Culture and Imperialism.

I'm not saying that you've done this in making your choice of tattoo but I think that that's the intellectual underpinning here.
posted by dmt at 3:21 PM on April 9, 2004


Slightly OT: My eighth grade classmates and I (back in the mid-nineties) were once given a little japanese lesson by a visiting scholar. At one point, she asked us our names and translated them into Kanji. I gave her my nickname, and she asked if I wouldn't rather have my proper name translated. Apparently the name I go by means "housemite."
posted by quasistoic at 3:36 PM on April 9, 2004


It is these linguistic bridges that will bring languages and cultures closer together.

Not if the writing systems are totally different.
posted by oaf at 10:33 PM on April 9, 2004


Just a few thoughts:

Sidhedevil: I think that anyone who gets a tattoo of words that they can't read is an idiot...
Why would anyone want a tattoo they couldn't read? What would be the point?


why don't you ask them? people get tattoos for a great variety of reasons -- getting on their case for something you don't understand seems just as foolish as getting on their case for something they don't understand.

jonmc: "In my experience, especially among younger people, that's generally true. Same goes for body piercers, label whores, and people in trucker hats who don't drive trucks... "Other reasons" are immaterial to me and generally speaking they're a cover for "I wanna do what that cool kids are doing." I just loathe unoriginal thinking and smugness.

I'm sure this is news to noone but it seems like it's been conspicuously absent from this thread: trucker hats, labels, piercing, tattoos, clothing, hairstyles, iPod possesion, metafilter posting ability, etc.; all these can be used as identifying characteristics of particular and specific social groups. Loathing them doesn't help anyone out.
posted by headless at 12:26 PM on April 12, 2004


dnash - interesting I didn't know that. The reason I have it is similar, I have endometriosis and any daughter born from me would most likely have it too. Bonus, it hides my laproscopi scars really well.
posted by dabitch at 1:02 PM on April 12, 2004


headless - i, for one, loathe anyone with metafilter-posting abil.....

oh, wait. nevermind. carry on, nothing to see here...
posted by caution live frogs at 9:57 AM on April 13, 2004


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