Buyer Beware: Know What You’re Getting

When getting a tattoo, it might be prudent to actually consider what you are getting. Especially if the tattoo is in a language or comes from a culture you do not understand. Too many people get tattoos because they look nice without taking the time to think about what the tattoo might represent.

One example is with Chinese characters and Japanese Kanji. Admittedly, these characters are very beautiful and can “privately” display a message without others necessarily knowing what it is. But the problem is that sometimes even the wearer of the tattoo doesn’t know what it means. They rely on the tattoo artist to tell them what the symbols mean or turn to unreliable character sheets or books.

One reader pointed out the dangers of these mistakes. “This girl I once knew who was born in the Year of the Rooster decided to get the Chinese word (they are words, not symbols) for ‘chicken’ on her back. Well, little does she know, ‘chicken’ is slang for ‘prostitute’. Because of the allure of a foreign language and lack of research, she will now be forever branded with a word with a meaning she never intended. Some people end up with words on their back that mean nothing by themselves, or are not even words at all, but just look cool. Some people end up with words like ‘death’ on their bodies, which in Chinese (it is also the same word in Japanese) may also mean ‘die’, this word is considered extremely unlucky and cannot even be spoken around holidays.”

Another type of design that has the potential for mistakes and embarassment is Maori-style facial tattoos. These tribal designs may look very nice but require extensive research. Clare shares her thoughts about this by saying, “With regard to Maori facial tattoos (ta moko), I would just like to point out all moko patterns (facial and otherwise) are gender specific and are often used to denote tribal rank and/or affiliation. I’m a kiwi of Maori descent, and a friend of mine on holiday in LA saw an Anglo-American man wearing a moko that indicated he was a woman from the Kai Tahu tribe in the South Island. Clearly this guy had no respect for, or interest in, the meaning of his tat. Please research your tattoo’s meaning before getting the ink, no matter what culture it comes from. A lot of cultures developed their designs for religious and social reasons and it would be pretty insensitive (not to mention stupid) not to know what your body art says.”

If you’re dead-set on getting a tattoo that is from a language or culture you don’t personally understand, at least do some research. You’ll avoid a lot of personal humiliation and gain a lot more respect for the culture it comes from.

This entry was posted in Tattoo 101. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.