Tattoos and the importance of culture and language

I think there are many times when people do not think deeply about the significance of an item to another culture. This is the case with the sacred tattoos of Thailand. I first read the NPR report “Thailand To Tattoo Tourists: Think Before You Ink” and agreed with the sentiment. The tattoos are sacred to the Thai culture and have religious meanings. If a person does not fully understand these meanings or respect the cultural significance, it can offend many people. The Time Magazine article “Luck of the Draw” about the book “Sacred Skin” gives a little background to the tattoos. However, I feel sometimes it is wise to proceed with caution. It may be better to admire from afar without participating. In such a case, I applaud the Thai government for taking the initiative to prevent foreigners from getting the tattoo in the first place.

The topic of tattoos that offend or are a result of being misguided about a culture or language brought me to the blog Hanzi Smatter. The blog is a collection of pictures that people have sent in of their tattoos. These tattoos are either in Japanese or Chinese. People write in to check if the characters have the meaning they wanted. Most of the time the tattoo characters make no sense or do not have the meaning the owner intended. It’s rather sad because tattoos are a permanent art. The blog is definitely a lesson in the importance of knowing a language and culture before putting it on your body.

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