Why Get A Tattoo?

We’ve all thought about it. Maybe we did get one. I haven’t, but I have thought about. I wanted something cool and “Buddhist-looking”, like the nembutsu (南無阿弥陀仏) or something, but I never got one. While joking with my sister online, I remembered an old video from the famous web-series Red vs. Blue (based on the game Halo), which actually makes a lot of sense:

It’s true. When I look back at myself 10 years ago, at the age of 25, I was a goddamn idiot. And when I am 45, I will look at my life now and realize that I am a goddamn idiot.

But there’s other reasons not to get tattoos: in some countries, such as Japan and Korea, tattoos are associated with mobsters, so some bathhouses and such will ban people wearing them. Obviously, foreigners are probably not mobsters, but the social stigma still applies. If you’re traveling, you have to cover up a tattoo to be safe. I hear that attitudes in Japan/Korea are slowly changing over tattoos, but it still makes things awkward and when you go to a foreign country, you should make a best effort to blend in.

Also, people change. What seems really cool and hip now might seem really stupid 10 years later, or just not very interesting. You never really know.

Also, one time I was attending a sermon at the local Shingon Buddhist temple here in Seattle and the priest explained that tattooing one’s body is kind of disrespecting one’s parents. At the time, being a typical American, I thought that statement was really strange. However, having raised my daughter from birth, now I appreciate what that means. Parents put years and years of effort to safely raising healthy children. You can never appreciate this until you’ve seen your 1-year old with a high-fever and bad cough. It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced because you feel so helpless and you just want them to be safe and healthy. The first time I saw my daughter bleed after scraping her knee was kind of hard to see too.

So when your children grow up and do stupid things with their bodies (or do stupid things in general), it is kind of frustrating. Of course, as a parent, I love my daughter unconditionally, but now I see why it’s disrespectful.

Lastly, I know for a fact that those Chinese Character tattoos are often wrong. I was at a fair last year here in Seattle and I saw a tattoo booth (henna, not real tattoos), and they had a gallery outside the door. As I walked by, I noticed one tattoo that said “Zen”, but used the character , not . In Japanese, both are pronounced “zen”, but the first one just means a complete set or something sufficient, while the second one means “Zen Buddhism”. Luckily I can read Japanese, but any American could easily make the mistake and have that on his or her body for the rest of their lives. How stupid. Imagine an Asian person with a tattoo that says “bread”. Yup, that’s how it looks to Asian people when you get a Chinese character tattoo.

About Doug 陀愚

A Buddhist, Father and Japanophile / Koreaphile.
This entry was posted in Buddhism, Japan, Korea, Religion, Travel, Zen and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Why Get A Tattoo?

  1. johnl says:

    When I was eight years old, my family took a trip to California (BIG DEAL!!) and I casually mentioned that I wanted a tatoo (this was long before the days of Bart Simpson)–of course my mother was horrified, but my father said ‘If we to to the navy base in San Diego, we can probably find a place there.’ I was like ‘yeah, yeah, let’s go!’ but it never happened… So I still don’t have one, but seeing all the drooping flesh etc. fifty-some years later, it’s probably for the better. :)

  2. kathrinjapan says:

    There are places is Japan that are off limits for those who are tattoo’d. Don’t ask me how I know.

  3. Doug 陀愚 says:

    Hi Kathrinjapan and welcome,

    How do you…. oh wait. :p

    Yeah, tattoos are great until you want to remove them and then you can’t.

  4. Doug 陀愚 says:

    Hi John,

    Fatherhood seems a little different in those days. My grandfather let me try a sip of beer when I was a little boy (tasted awful of course… maybe that’s why I don’t drink). :p

    Yeah, my “cool” tattoo won’t look so cool when I am in my twilight years. I certainly don’t want a “Blade” tattoo like in the video above by that point. ;)

  5. ArcticGirl says:

    Haha, the story about that tattoo booth reminds me about what my friend saw at an amusement park: there was children’s tattoo booth (really just a face painting), and they were offering japanese characters. Well, on the list there was ‘harmony’, but the character was… 酒. Well, luckily it was not a real tattoo shop but still quite funny. :) People really shouldn’t take those character tattoos if they can’t read them!

    I was travelling with a tattoo’d friend in Japan (we are both otherwise really ordinary looking girls), and there actually was one hotel and one bath house which wouldn’t take us in because of that. The hotel actually made quite a big deal about it. So it does still happen to tourists too. Although when I travelled there this year, I feel I saw a lot more “ordinary” young Japanese people with visible tattoos than 6 years ago, so maybe it’s getting more common, but who knows. Still, I’m glad I don’t have any tattoos myself, never really wanted to…

  6. johnl says:

    By the way, there is a possible workaround for the bathhouse/swimming pool problem. If the tattoo is small enough, you might be okay if you can cover it with a flesh-colored patch, kind of a band-aid thingy. I have seen people wearing these in swimming pools.

  7. Doug 陀愚 says:

    Hi Johnl,

    Thanks for the advice, from an expert. :D

  8. Doug 陀愚 says:

    Hi ArcticGirl,

    I enjoyed the story about the “harmony” tattoo. I could definitely believe it. I wonder if that booth meant it as an inside joke, or really didn’t know what they were doing.

    But yeah, times seem to be changing, but sadly mobsters are still found in Japan (just like everywhere else) and spoil things for the rest of us.

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