Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Unfortunate tattoos

I don’t flaunt my tattoos at work but I don’t particularly hide them either. Consequently people tend to come up and talk to me about tattooing.

One guy recently proudly showed off some Kanji characters that he’d had on his bicep. Apparently they spelt out his daughter's name – Sharon. I tried to show a sort of non-committal politeness and conceal my feelings that it was total bollocks.

I’ve never heard of any Asian girls called Sharon so I’m guessing that it is spelt out pseudo-phonetically. Which of course is nonsense and liable to produce the kind of comic ambiguities that ended up recently with one girl being tattooed with what was dangerously similar to the name of a Hong Kong supermarket chain (which is actually funnier than simply the word ‘supermarket’ as reported by the BBC).

Having something tattooed that you can’t actually read just seems like a recipe for disaster. From my martial arts experience I know the huge arguments (and actual fights) that have raged for years over differing interpretations of the characters that represent my chosen style of Wing Chun – ‘Forever Spring’ or ‘Praise Spring’ or ‘Beautiful Spring’. And this is between people who can actually speak the language but where context is everything and interpretation is not literal but contextual.

There also seems something inherently disrespectful about appropriating an aspect of another culture and then using it out of context. Ironically there is a beautiful and fascinating tradition of Japanese tattooing (horimono) going back for centuries, and none of it, to my knowledge, uses characters.

Come to think of it, I’m really not convinced about any sort of lettering as the basis of a tattoo, even if you do understand the language. As a means of commemorating a loved one it shows a distinct lack of imagination, or maybe it just means that you’re not good with names and feel the need for a memory-aid.

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