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Tattooed Japanese symbols

Tattooing Japanese symbols


Francis winced in pain as the needle jabbed in and out of her arm, guided with meticulous details by tattoo artist Gus. He was tattooing the Japanese symbol for protection on her right shoulder, so, as Francis explained, she always had someone ewatching her backf. Francis did not want to elaborate, mysteriously hinting at a rogue past. Obviously, I persisted; there is more to the story. Why make an obvious statement if you donft want to talk about it? eItfs personalf, she replied, eletfs just say it is what it is. My protection.f Not an uncommon response according to Gus, who says that the symbolism of tattooing is becoming more and more obscure. More than half of Gusfs clients have Japanese character designs in mind, and usually as their first tattoo. And, he says, it is the appeal of the exotic, and superstition that leads them there. eThe days of mum and heart are just about gone,f he says from his busy tattoo studio. eI swear half of my clients think they are the last samurai!f

Japanese and Chinese symbols have been used in tattoos for hundreds of years, but they have only recently gained popularity in Western circles. The earliest record of the Japanese using kanji as tattoos can be traced back to the samurai from the Kagoshima region in the south of Japan. While many of those sporting Japanese tattoos believe this practice was popular amongst the Japanese warrior men, the use of kanji as tattoos was traditionally uncommon in Japan. Tattooing amongst Japanfs receding indigenous communities, such as the Ainu, were believed to be more culturally representative of Japan in its early history. These tattoos were mostly decorative and symbolic rather than representing a word or idea as a kanji symbol does.

Strangely enough though, tattooing was widely used in Japan to mark criminals and those who had been rejected from society. Despite the popularity of tattoos in western youth culture, a Japanese woman sporting tattoos is believed to be linked to the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia. This is a traditional view, and one commonly shared in rural areas of Japan. It is likely that this is linked to the outlawing of tattooing in the mid 1900s, and its barbaric uncultured image at the time. Yet even now, women in the onsen or sento (Japanese public baths) will scatter at the sight of a tattooed Japanese woman. A tattooed woman is to be feared, a prostitute, a criminal, Yakuza. While a tattooed foreigner causes less of a stir, the use of kanji in tattoos is complex at best.

Takanori Tomita, a kanji tattoo translator and designer confirms this.
eI get asked to translate some really strange things. Sometimes there is not such a word in Japan, so the translation is often difficult if it is true meaning the client is after.f
And, he thinks, often the client needs some serious guidance in choosing a Japanese tattoo.
eOften you will see a foreigner with a random kanji printed on their arm, like rabbit or something, and Japanese people just think that is funny. You guys think we are weird wearing Japlish on our t-shirts, but at least we donft print it on our skin!f
eThink about it! Big daddy translates to large father!f
But, he says, kanji tattoos are at there worst when the kanji are drawn incorrectly.
eWe are superstitious still,f Takanori says eSome kanji are just unlucky, and even for the lucky kanji, if the design or stroke order is wrong, it can easily bring you bad luck.f

Nathan, an Australian travelling in Japan, has experienced this first hand.
eMy ki (energy) symbol doesnft mean a thing. And Ifve seen some of my Japanese friends really spooked by it. Ifm looking into having it tattooed over, or removed if I can afford it.f
eCheck out your tattooist carefully, and get advice from someone who is actually Japanese,f he says.

It may stop your white rabbit from being a white elephant.





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