Tattooing in North American culture represents a fascinating confluence of cultural influences. A practice that is as old as it is widespread, enthusiasts explore body art as a way to express their cultural appreciation or heritage. One trend that has been prominent in the tattoo world for years is the tattooing of foreign words, phrases or characters. Most commonly seen with Kanji or Chinese characters, the trend is somewhat controversial in the tattoo community, not just for cultural appropriation reasons but also and primarily due to the tendency for awkward and embarrassing mistranslations.
Many choose to get Kanji or Chinese symbol tattoos as a way to express a meaningful value in a way that is aesthetically pleasing, though its origins in the tattoo world are unclear and possibly unsavory. One Rhode Island-based tattoo studio indicated that Kanji script tattoos were originally a way to visually denote that a person had done jail time. However, tenuous veracity of that origin story aside, the fact is that Kanji tattoos are some of the most popular around today.
Unfortunately, appreciation of a culture and its language does not automatically come with proper semantic and syntactic understanding of that language, and Kanji tattoos are notorious for all manner of botched translations and improper lettering, with results ranging from funny to cringe-worthy. Galleries of some of the more notable missteps are common online. Oftentimes, tattoo recipients will fail to take context into account, ending up with ink that means something completely different than what they were intending. Sometimes lettering can be improperly drawn, oriented the wrong way, inked upside-down or misordered. On occasion, Kanji tattoos have even been reported that appear to have no discernible meaning at all, with the script not reflecting any actual characters but instead being akin to gibberish.
Regardless of the specific manner of the mistake, there are almost as many ways to get a Kanji tattoo wrong as there are varieties of Kanji tattoos in the first place. Prospective tattoo hopefuls would do well to think twice before going under the needle, lest they be setting themselves up for an embarrassing bout of tattoo regret.
As with most trends, there is a high degree of representation in the celebrity world as well. Famous athletes, actors and musicians have been getting Kanji tattoos for years along with the rest of us. Unfortunately, their place in the public eye doesn't make them immune from some of the same awkward gaffes – if anything, it serves to amplify them.
A recent notable example comes out of the World Cup in Brazil. In a match between Greece and Japan, Greek player Theofanis Gekas had his own Kanji tattoo on display, and fans were quick to note something was amiss. Intended to read "cool killer" in Kanji according to one site, Gekas made the classic blunder of using the wrong words out of context. As a result, the famous athlete was left with a tattoo that is meaningless, giving soccer fans something else to talk about other than the tournament. This gibberish tattoo can serve as a high-profile warning to those thinking of following in the famous footballer's footsteps.
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