tattoo kanji

Has internationalization taught us nothing? How strange it is that so many people can laugh unabashedly about the Orient’s attempts at “Engrish” and yet remain stubbornly ignorant of the meanings behind many Asian symbols, whether they’re printed on t-shirts or inked into their skin?!

Yes, the existence of tattoos with inappropriate meanings remains an epidemic. What’s perhaps the most surprising is that even in this day and age many people sporting these strange Asian symbols didn’t necessarily skimp on the research and just got suckered into something by their tattoo artists. Rather, many Western people don’t care enough to ask about the meanings at all!

One of China’s daily world newspapers recently reported the tale of Hoan, a Chinese woman living in America who moved from the state of Missouri to the bustling metropolis of New York City. Soon after settling in, she received a knock on her front door and was confronted with a Latin-American man with the Chinese for “casket maker” tattooed on his upper arm. Taking the words as a metaphor for some sinister lifestyle and thinking that she’d somehow crossed paths with a member of an organized crime syndicate, Hoan promptly shut the door in his face.

As it turns out, the guy was actually a pizza delivery man, but for being a newcomer in a strange land, we can surely forgive her some initial confusion. Chinese and Japanese people living in Western societies often encounter these sorts of awkward situations where they understand perfectly the kanji that people decorate themselves with. Oftentimes, these symbols are chosen for their exotic appearance, rather than their actual meaning.

In fact, when Hoan visited the pizza shop at a later date and asked the “casket maker” what he knew about the meaning, he reportedly didn’t have a clue! He chose the words because they had “such great impact and looked really cool.” He never bothered to ask about the meaning. I’ve got to say that it’s hard to pity someone with that sort of attitude, no matter how many strange stares they may garner…

Thankfully, not everyone is so willfully ignorant. Many people will look up symbols online before making their way to the tattoo parlor, but even then, mistakes can be made. One man apparently looked up the word “free” in an online dictionary and had the results of his search inked. Unfortunately, what he thought said “free” in the ‘freedom’ sense actually said so in the ‘zero charge’ sort of way. But at least he tried, right?

I guess the moral of this story is to be cautious when getting inked in kanji. Either learn the language or do a lot of research before having any Asian characters injected into your flesh. And if you can, check the meaning with a native before you follow through with it. Otherwise, you could be the next “ugly,” “self comfort,” or “casket maker.”

Source: Record China via Hachima Kikou (Japanese)
Image: Hanzi Smatter