Reader Taryn M. emails me this great letter:
"Hey! I know you get tons of emails but I just wanted to say that I love your site. Reading it help me realize that I do NOT want or need to get a tattoo in Japanese, Chinese, or any language that I don't understand. I saw how ridiculous it can look when someone has nonsense on him or her either because they were misinformed or just thought certain characters looked cool/pretty/neat.
I think that those who do it think of those languages as just pictures and symbols without realizing their importance to their respective cultures. It's like instead of getting PEACE tattooed on them in fancy English script or whatever; they say 'I'll get its equivelent 'picture/symbol' in Japanese or Chinese'.
That said, its a fad that will be around for a LONG time. But thanks again for your enlightening website."
One thing has always bothered me is when people referring to Chinese and Japanese characters as "symbols". Granted, the Chinese writing is not formed like English alphabet, but the definition of "symbol" is:
Something that represents something else by association, resemblance, or convention, especially a material object used to represent something invisible.
Symbol may be fine to use a crow's feet inside a circle to represent the concept of "peace", but when used in a linguistic sense, they are not symbols. They are characters.