Why do people get Japanese or Chinese character tattoos?

I would like to see some replies from people who have them, if possible.

Stupidity ?

Nothing like wandering around with ‘idiot’ in Katakana tattood on your arm.

Because when you get older and you go to work for a Asian firm you want them to know that you were a SLUT when you were a kid but didn’t know that is what your tat actually said.

Since we’re actually looking for opinions here, let’s move this to IMHO.

samclem GQ moderator

I was tutoring a Japanese girl and we got off-topic about tattoos. She said in Japan they’re generally considered distasteful, and she couldn’t stop laughing when she described an American she once saw who had “SAMURAI” in Japanese tattooed across his back. And it wasn’t spelled quite right.

Maybe to her it would be the equivalent of an American seeing a Japanese man with “SUPARSTARR” tattooed across his chest in English.

There’s a website somewhere featuring bad kanji/hanzi tatoos. a lot of the bad one’s I’ve seen are just nonsensical. My Chinese wife tries really hard not to laugh out loud.

I dunno, they look pretty dorky to me. Especially the ones that are gibberish. Usually the artist doesn’t understand Chinese or Japanese and doesn’t get the brush strokes right.

anyhoo, beats the stuffing out of me why someone that understands zero of a language wants a tat of it

Or this guy(?): http://engrish.com/detail.php?imagename=premenstral-tension.jpg&category=Clothing&date=2006-06-14

My GF gave me a black t-shirt with a Chinese dragon on it and some sort of writing, but I don’t want to wear it unless I know what the hell it says!

oh man, you can’t make shit like this up

I remember one on a motorcyclist in Taipei: “I don’t need love, I don’t need money, I just need height.”

Oh, Engrish. I finally broke down awhile back and bought a Dr. Superlove t-shirt from that site.

I have another friend who’s fairly proficient in Japanese and she wore a shirt that said “I’m a Stupid American”- or something like that- in Japanese. While visiting Japan. She knew damn well what it said, too. She was just trying to be funny.

http://www.hanzismatter.com is probably what you’re thinking of. Good site, lots of commentary from native and non-native speakers on the translations.

My rule of thumb with tattoos in languages that you do not speak: If you really want it in a specific language, find three or four native speakers to give you an translation, and make sure that you can trust these native speakers to give you accurate information. If you’re not willing to go through all of this (and then probably checking with an academic who specializes in that language), you should probably get the tattoo in a language that you’re very familiar with.

I’ll go first, I have a tattoo of Chinese characters. I’ve posted about this a few times before, so I’ll try to keep it short. I lost 75 lbs. I have now kept it off for over 2 years. After 20 years of yoyo dieting and occasional losses followed by spectactular failures, changing my life and keeping the weight off is really important to me - I love living as a thin person.

In June 2005, I decided I wanted a tattoo to celebrate my weight loss and serve as a daily reminder how much work it takes to maintain my weight loss. I had a lot of ideas, I toyed with a pheonix or a butterfly, the idea of “transformation.” Then, I started thinking about Chinese or Japanese characters which I consider beautiful. It was a way to say something profound and meaningful to me in a concise manner (limited real estate, you know).

I talked to a lot of people, got a lot of advice - from native speakers of Chinese and Japanese (I work in an international company and was very good friends with my Japanese localization vendor as well as employees of a call center in Singapore), including members of the Dope. I quickly realized it wasn’t a matter of sticking 2 characters together to get a desired English meaning. Someone suggested a Chinese proverb and I found this great site . I narrowed down my choices to 5 and finally made a decision based on personal significance and beauty of characters.

After I made my decision, I ran it past many people (native speakers as well as the guy at Hanzi Smatter) to ensure it was correct. Although he tried to talk me out of the tattoo, the guy from Hanzi Smatter was very helfpul and suggested some beautiful Chinese fonts. My tattoo is 4 traditional Chinese characters of a Chinese proverb “Dripping water eats through stone.” Just to remind me of the hundreds of tiny changes I made and do on a daily basis to accomplish something enormous. Even a tiny drop of water can wear away a rock. I really loved the idea of perseverance - it means a lot to me. Basically, I wanted a daily reminder not to fuck up. “Do not fuck this up” as a tattoo just leaves a lot to be desired, aesthetically.

I got the tattoo for me, it’s rarely visible to other people (it’s about 3 inches long, on my back, down my spine, starting about 1 inch below the shirt collar). To me, it is beautiful and significant and while I understand there is a brouhaha about Americans getting Chinese/Japanese character tattoos, I am not bothered by other people’s opinions my tattoo is dumb. I got it for me and I love it.

I’ve seen you post about this before and I love hearing your story. Congrats on changing your life.

When I see threads like this, I usually just roll my eyes and go read something else. As is evidenced by the majority of the posts, I’ve found that these threads usually serve just to bash people who have these tattoos, not to actually try to find an answer to the question.

I can’t answer the question as to why other people get these types of tattoos, but I’ll offer my own anecdotal evidence as I have two japanese kanji on my leg. Why kanji as opposed to english or any other language? Quite simply, I like how it looks. In my situation, the message was going the same regardless of the form whether I got it in, and I liked how it looked in kanji the best. Is that a dumb reason to get a tattoo? Sure, but no dumber than a flower, a dreamcatcher, a celtic knot, or a really bitchin’ skull. I totally get that lots of people find it smurfy, but that’s okay – my tattoo isn’t for them, it’s for me.

To make a WAG, I imagine that americans found that chinese characters look exotic and have the bonus of being able to really personalize it and make it about them and their life philosophy.

Add me to another who finds it odd at the least and uncomfortable at the most when people adopt other cultures like this, without remotely understanding what they are doing. It actually seems little bit insulting when you think about it but I can’t point to what bothers me about it.

I see what Glory says and I get it…and I don’t. Perhaps because I am already immersed in a culture so deep and old - E. Indian - that I don’t feel the need to borrow too much from other cultures. And of course I’m heavily a part of American culture.

It seems sometimes to me that Americans - certain ones - hunger for a culture, and Asiatic is exotic, so it seems intriguing. Please, I don’t mean to insult anyone - just my two cents.

T-shirts are a whole different arena of course…wear whatever t-shirts you like, I guess. It’s not permanent. The idea of inking something into my skin which I can’t read seems kind of horrifying to me. Some other Indian (was it anu?) said they had an ‘Om’ and I think that’s an awesome idea - but that’s my culture, and I know what the symbol for Om means without someone telling me.

I’ve heard this a lot and I don’t understand this at all - hungering for another culture…what? Just seems paradoxical, Americans are sometimes accused of being culturally egocentric, but we don’t get any positive credit for admiring other cultures either. Just seems damned if we do, damned if we don’t. In any case, I can easily enjoy the richness and variety of other cultures without “hungering” for them.

The world is a small place and getting smaller all the time. Personally, I think it’s positive when any culture finds beauty and value in another.

I have one.

Specifically, I have this one.

I’m getting it covered.

Please feel free to mock me. I deserve it.

I don’t have a Japanese or Chinese language tattoo, but I do have a Gaellic phrase tattooed on my shoulder: Aonaibh ri chiele, which I’m given to understand means “Unity.” It’s part of my family crest, which is what made the tat important to me, more than the specific meaning of those words.

I can understand the allure of the sort of tattoos being discussed in this thread, though. I’m sure a lot of people get Asian-language tattoos because they’ve seen too many Bruce Lee movies and think geting “Bad Motherfucker” tattooed on their chest in Chinese will make them look like a badass, but I think it’s also possible to simply appreciate the beautiful calligraphy. And that can go for Western languages as easily as Eastern ones. If you can actually read the language, it can be kind of hard to get past the plain-text meaning of the words and appreciate their aesthetic beauty. Most of these tats are meant to work as an attractive, abstract design, and not as a way of conveying any particular message.

That said, it would still piss me off if I got one of them and found out the artist screwed it up and misspelled something.

I have a tattoo that says ‘sisters’ in Chinese, in honor of my sister who was killed in a car accident at age 25 three years ago. My three surviving sisters have the same one, although in different locations. Mine is on my lower back. Of course, we made very, very certain of what the symbols/spelling/meaning was before we allowed someone to apply it.

After taking some Mandarin classes, I was amazed at how much characters’ meanings are contextual instead of literal. It sounds like you did your research, which is very smart. You could have ended up with characters that simultaneously could mean either “Dripping water eats through stone” and “Excessive drool ruined my sidewalk” for example :slight_smile:

Nah, don’t cover it up! Just get a tattoo of Mr. Peabody to go along with it.

I think I just decided what my cover-up will be…