"I've noticed how people seem to take delight when I hand them my business cards with kanji on one side and the alphabet on the reverse," chuckles Takuro Nagami, a photographer who often goes on assignments abroad. "When signing my name in kanji for credit card purchases, I get praised. People tell me it's cool."
But Spa! (June 29) notes that some of Nagami's compatriots find the unexpected appearance of kanji on foreigners' gear -- and occasionally on their skin -- to be somewhat peculiar. At an international pingpong tournament held in Moscow in May, one Japanese was bemused to see a foreign team manager wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words 人生卓球 ("jinsei takkyu," meaning life [is] table tennis). And in Tokyo's Harajuku district, a blonde foreign female garnered gazes while prancing about in a form-fitting shirt with the characters 日本海兵隊 ("Nihon kaiheitai," or Japanese marines).
There's even supposed to be a popular iPhone application that will convert one's Romanized name into Chinese characters.
But it's the misuse of kanji in tattoos, it seems, that are the source of particularly malicious glee. While at a motocross event in the U.S., the aforementioned cameraman Nagami spotted a man whose left arm bore the characters nonsense word ヌヌ子("nunuko"). Nagami deduced that the tattoo artist had inadvertently transposed the word 双子 ("futago" for twins), separating the kanji "futa," meaning double or pair, into two katakana characters that are read "nu."
Another Japanese relates seeing a woman wearing a silver pendant with the character 酷 -- read "hidoi" which means "cruel" or "terrible." When inquiring to the wearer, he was informed it was supposed to mean "cool." It seems the character forms the second half of the compound word 冷酷 ("reikoku" or coldhearted), a word that relates to "cold," and from which one can therefore extrapolate "cool." Doesn't that make perfect sense? Er. . . not really.
"This friend of mine from Spain had a kanji tattooed on his arm because he said it 'looked neat,'" another Japanese tells Spa! "But while traveling in China, he noticed people constantly snickering when they saw it. He finally found out it was the kanji 豚 ('ton,' meaning pig)."
Spa! also notes wryly that Cafe Press, an Internet mail order company, has been selling "fundoshi" (Japanese-style loincloths) embellished with the characters 過労死 ("karoshi" or death from overwork).
What is it about kanji that so appeals to people who have no clue whatsoever to what they mean?
In an impromptu survey, Spa's reporter showed foreigners sheets bearing single characters 尿、森、萌、豚、狂 and others (meaning, respectively, urine, forest, to sprout, pig and crazy), and invited them to pick the one they liked best. Reasons for their choices included "I like the shape" (from a German); "Whatever" (a Spaniard); and "It must mean something that's happy and nice" (an Australian).
The kanji that garnered the top vote was 呆 ("ho" or "akireru"). When informed that it means "a fool," the standard reaction was usually an embarrassed laugh, followed by an expression of relief. The character seemed to have appealed mainly because of its symmetrical form.
Among the surveyed foreign residents who were on more familiar terms with kanji, a gent from India gave an interesting reason why his favorite character was 幸 ("sachi" for good fortune).
"You can make it by writing a plus, a minus, an equal sign, a minus and a plus!" he explained.© Japan Today