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In Defense of Kanji Tattoo Typos

I forget where it was I read about it, but apparently when kanji first started flowing into Japan, it was on stuff like pottery. And potters in Japan would copy these strange, cool-looking symbols. They didn’t always get the characters right, but they appreciated the visual beauty.

That’s where kanji stand right now outside of the kanjisphere. People love them, people appreciate the beauty, but they kind of get them wrong here and there.

When we make fun of people who have kanji errors in their tattoos, we are totally missing the point. Why?

  1. It’s like making fun of a baby for having bad posture…The simple fact that the baby is walking is cause for celebration. Forget their friggin posture!
  2. It’s their skin, not ours
    • Plus they’re going to die anyway and their bodies will be eaten away by fungi and maggots, so what does it matter whether or not what was written on it was syntactically correct or not?
  3. It makes people unnecessarily nervous and fearful about kanji. This is what we don’t want. This is premature optimization.
    • Remember this kid? The toddler who was recorded commenting on the moment he learned to ride a bike? Are we seriously going to get on this kid’s case because he sometimes slurs and gets so excited he doesn’t fully make sense? Because that’s what we’re doing when we rag on people who have typos in their kanji tattoos.
  4. What rule said that these people had to follow the norms of Chinese/Japanese kanji form and usage in the first place? It’s a tattoo, not a freaking essay; these aren’t documents they’re writing, they’re just trying to have fun.
    • Speaking of documents, when a book has a typo in it, do you blame the person reading it? Do you blame the person who bought it? No, you blame the author/publisher. If anyone is at fault at all, it’s the tattoo artists, not the tattooees. Educate them, not their customers.
  5. Do we honestly have nothing better to do than mock the Chinese/Japanese writing of people who can’t read or speak Chinese/Japanese anyhow? Have we fallen so low that we have to make fun of illiterates? It’s like mocking the fashion choices of people in a refugee camp: it’s just wrong. It’s rohng!

No typos on 愛子ちゃん here…

Heck, I don’t even like tattoos. Never had them. Never wanted them. I’m too prissy and bourgeois for that. But the idea that a person would fall in love with kanji, would appreciate them so much that they would want to permanently etch them into their skin…that’s just beautiful. That’s really…almost moving. And for us to then go and be like, “your usage is wrong”. I mean, WTF?

The only bad kanji tattoo is a tattoo that has no kanji in it 🙂 .

The main function that making fun of people’s kanji tattoo typos serves is to make us feel better about how freaking well-educated we are because we know proper Sino-Japanese. Well whoop-dee-frikkin-doo for us. And now the main purpose of our knowledge is to mock the ignorance of those who don’t have it? Wouldn’t we be better off reading — or writing — a Chinese or Japanese book, since we’re so ossome at kanji? Isn’t that where we should be? Isn’t that our league?

Michael Jordan doesn’t walk onto kindergarten playgrounds and make fun of people’s basketball form. You don’t see Stephen King writing blogs about: “lulz omg!!! Look at all this noobz on the internets with their gay-a$$ EPIC FAIL amacheur fan-fiction, you call that a NOVEL, beeches?!!!” Bill Gates doesn’t have the words “I ham considerably a-richur than YOW” anywhere on his Twitter profile. Anywhere. I checked.

I’m not gonna lie. I’m a kanji baller. A shot-caller. So are you if you’ve been through RTK. So let’s play in the NCAA/NBA together. No need to go make fun of minor leaguers, toddlers and first-graders. Encourage them; smile at them; chuckle quietly to yourself at their awkwardly cute, childlike antics. But don’t shame them publicly. Don’t mock them. Don’t humiliate them. That’s wrong. It’s rohng!

  26 comments for “In Defense of Kanji Tattoo Typos

  1. Tommy Newbhall
    September 26, 2011 at 00:11

    Khats, I love you.

  2. September 26, 2011 at 00:38

    I admit, I do like to try to read people’s kanji tattoos. But I’ve never made fun of anybody for it. Not even the people with 雞絲炒飯 etched permanently into their skin. I think I’m a bit too nice to do something like that.

  3. September 26, 2011 at 03:50

    Hm, I can’t help but think that by making fun of people with kanji tattoos that we might be hurting our chances at getting English to start using Chinese characters, too, after reading that pottery story up there. ^^

  4. September 26, 2011 at 06:22

    It’s so well said I want to cry. :’)

  5. Agent J
    September 26, 2011 at 06:29

    My female cousin has one of these on her back (doesn’t know Japanese). I haven’t seen her since before I started studying though, so I’m not sure if her’s is correct…

    • Karen P
      September 30, 2011 at 00:30

      Your use of an apostrophe in “her’s” is most definitely incorrect.

      • Agent J
        September 30, 2011 at 05:08

        Nobody likes a grammar nazi especially when it’s irrelevant to the subject matter, and article.
        Thank you.

        • Kiruwa
          December 8, 2011 at 07:34

          methinks you missed the joke…

  6. Nyxtrisk
    September 26, 2011 at 08:02

    A couple months ago, my aunt came to visit us, and showed me her kanji tattoo that she had found out didn’t actually say what she had thought it did, it was just random squiggles that didn’t even form a real kanji. But instead of being upset about it, she told me she had decided to just make it her own personal kanji, and gave it its own meaning. Instead of making fun of people with messed up kanji, just let them have it mean whatever they want it too 🙂

    • Suchiko
      September 26, 2011 at 12:04

      Oh wow… a personal kanji??? That sounds amazing! Now I want one, too! 😀

  7. リチャード
    September 26, 2011 at 17:32

    I agree with you in principle.  But it’s not as if half these people are even trying to actually learn Japanese.  They just want an exotic tattoo… I’d say not all of them are even that in love with the script itself.  More like the novelty.  I still have never made fun of anyone for their tattoos, but if someone does show me their tattoo and asks me what it means, I’m not going to sugar coat that it’s not what they thought it was.

  8. September 26, 2011 at 18:36

    Ahhh I just had the best idea in the world! I want to get 何 on my upper arm. Maybe even with furigana. And then, anytime someone who knows it sees it, they’ll think I’m an idiot. And if I go to Japan, they won’t think I’m an idiot, they’ll just be confused.

    • September 26, 2011 at 19:12

      And everyone else will as “what does your tattoo mean?” And I’ll say….. “what?”

    • さんタク
      November 20, 2011 at 00:09

      I’ll get 「あなたの名前」 tattooed on my rear.
      “I have your name tattooed on my a** in Japanese!”

  9. SomeCallMeChris
    September 27, 2011 at 06:28

    Well, the only time I see people talking about Kanji tattoos is when someone comes to ask advice on getting one, and it’s not so much ‘making fun of’ as … viciously discouraging the very idea. I think the anti-tattoo attitude of the Japanese rubs off on people studying the language or something. Perhaps character-tattoo seeking westerners would have better luck talking to learners of Chinese, I don’t know…
    But, honestly, the only reason that the Japanese don’t tattoo ‘exotic’ English phrases all over their bodies is exactly because of that whole yakuza/tattoo prejudicial attitude going on. They slap incorrect and incoherent exotic occidental phrases all over everything else, though! I kinda like the T-shirts with nonsensical phrases on them that so many anime and dorama characters wear. I’ve heard that the tattoo prejudice is weakening anyway, so maybe there will be prevalent exotic western phrase tattoos in a few more years (or decades… )

  10. Vaendryl
    September 29, 2011 at 01:33

    this article reminds me…
    I once met a dude who had a string of hiragana on his inner arm. I couldn’t quite make it out because he wouldn’t sit still in a way that’d let me see it so I asked him what it was about.
    he happily told me it was the date of his wedding. his wife had the exact same tattoo. turns out way back when he typed in the date in word and converted it to some random font. he didn’t even know they were Japanese syllables or that they couldn’t possibly mean numbers on their own. (he even thought a dakuten meant a dash in the date) I tried my hardest not to laugh at his stupidity.
    I don’t see what’s wrong with the kanji-tattoo in the picture though. anyone willing to elucidate?

    • さんタク
      November 20, 2011 at 00:13

      As the caption reads, there is nothing wrong with the tattoo in the picture. I’m trying my hardest not to laugh at you. 😛

      • Vaendryl
        November 20, 2011 at 08:10

        you can laugh at me all you want, just tell me what’s so funny.
        someone has “beloved child” tattooed on their skin… maybe that’s silly and maybe they meant something slightly different but I don’t see why it’s funny. is it because it’s also the name of someone famous such as.. a certain princess? still doesn’t strike me as a big deal.

        • Amanda
          February 23, 2012 at 00:34

          Her tattoo is the name Aiko. That’s what a Japanese person would recognize when looking at these characters. There is no word for beloved child that uses those characters, just the name Aiko. And the caption is making fun of the fact that this gaijin has the name Aiko tattooed on herself when her name is most definitely not Aiko. Who would tattoo their own name on themselves anyway? 🙂

          • August 12, 2013 at 02:07

            Then again, it could’ve as well been the Chinese word aizi – beloved chiled.

  11. October 1, 2011 at 02:22

    I would never make fun of a person that has an “error” on his/her kanji tattoo… the very idea is stupid. BUT, if I see a boy proudly wearing a red shirt with the kanji of hemorrhoids in it, I would at least let him know what the kanji stands for, and let him decide what to do next 🙂

  12. Storm-Wolf
    November 8, 2011 at 10:23

    I like this post. I like it because even though i don’t make fun of people a lot,
    i might, one day, want to make fun of someone who has a tatoo of a stupid kanji,
    or a tatoo with kanjis with typos.

    This post reminds me that even though i may know a few kanjis, there is no need
    for me to be a smart ass about it.

    And this lesson also applies to everything else. 

  13. Jupiter
    February 12, 2012 at 19:55

    I don’t think it’s the desire to get a kanji tattoo that people usually mock. It’s the stupidity of somebody getting an intelligible symbol permanently inscribed upon their flesh without at least consulting a native-speaker beforehand.

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