A pet peeve of mine is Chinese character tattoos. These are often translations of some sentiment the victim wishes to express in code, but have been translated in a way that probably won’t make sense to a native speaker of Chinese or Japanese. In other cases, they are unidiomatic or just plain wrong.

Take a gander at the two kanji above. The one on the left, å’Œ, is the character for “peace,” popular as a tattoo, on T-shirts, decorative rocks, etc. The one on the right looks exactly the same, but for one crucial stroke. In fact, it is not an actual character at all (near as I can tell), though my first guess was that it means “apricot” (I was close: 杏). It is the one on the right that I saw tattooed on the small of a woman’s back on Sunday.

What’s the correct etiquette in this situation? Should I tell her “Hey, I know you wanted the character for ‘peace’ tattooed on your back, but you wound up with something that sorta looks like ‘apricot'”? Or should I leave her in blissful ignorance, as an inside joke for those of us who know the code?

Later: Apparently other people are writing about this problem too.

4 thoughts on “Wa-oops”

  1. I’m planning on using some pseudo-Japanese for the names of some parts my Project… picking random stereotypical Japanese sounds and stringing them together. Abuse and exploitation? Probably. It’s a hint of the exotic, rather than a deep understanding.

  2. That Kanji does look fake or at least not Japanese–Rie had never heard of it and she’s like a Kanji dictionary. Most likely Wa was intended since the cliche tats are so popular.

    The Kanji tattoo thing is very big in Hawaii. Chikara on the calf seems to be the macho thing. We saw some more ridiculous ones but I can’t think of them off the top of my head.

  3. This is a topic that has puzzled me for quite some time. It seems that most people who get the Kanji tattoos don’t do their research beforehand. Most of the time, they go to a tattoo shop and just point at the one on the wall that they want. I know I’m not alone when I suggest researching the stuff before committing to the ink. I’m not a tattooed person, myself, but if I were to choose a Kanji tattoo, you’d better believe that I’d be reading all kinds of books and consulting the experts first.

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