I know something I say today will hurt but I think that’s appropriate, given I’m going to talk about tattoos and it is in the nature of getting a tattoo, that you will experience a little pain. People ask, “doesn’t it hurt?” Well, yes. And that’s kind of the point. I’m going to say something that might sting, and maybe pain is or is not the point with personal essays.
I know you think you’re paying me a courtesy, or genuinely want to prevent me from walking into a trap, or you like thinking Japanese culture is arcane and full of contradictions, but you have got to stop making a big deal of the possibility that tattooed people supposedly can’t go into onsen baths. Hot springs can be a quasi sacred experience but first of all, it’s just a bath and the majority of these baths are so hyper managed there’s nothing truly sacred about it. Secondly, the prohibition is hardly enforced. My god, I would love to see an old innkeeper come into an onsen and kick me out because I have a three inch rectangle tattooed on my chest. It hasn’t happened yet, and I’ve dipped in more baths than (insert joke about gay cruising in the 1970s).
And OK yes, sometimes the Japanese are dicks about tattooed bathers. As in all fascist environments, the really strict bath houses indicate their appetites explicitly and a visibly tattooed individual would infer from tone and presentation whether to proceed. You don’t want to be there anyway if they’re really being dicks, right? That said, I still think anyone who runs a smaller inn is going to be amenable to a conversation. I’ve known heavily tattooed people to beseech smaller onsen operators to allow for private time in the baths so as not to disturb others who may take umbrage with their dumb tats. Hey wow is this an allegory? Hashtag conflict is not abuse. Hashtag no bathtub is worth going to war over.
I don’t hate shitty asian tattoos on white people and I’m kind of tired of pretending I give a shit. I’m a monster. I’m sorry. This one is really gonna suck for some of you to hear because I stand up against cultural appropriation with the force of social indignation during work hours, but I’ll be honest: who cares what white people do to their skin?
Also, those dumb tattoos? Asians get them too. I don’t mean that Asians get illegible English tattoos. I mean we straight up get Asian language tattooed on us without really knowing what the fuck it says. You know how I know? I HAVE ONE.
I have Mongolian useg scripture tattooed on the backs of my legs. I like what it says and have memorized how to say them, but could I write it out within the context of the language? Am I able to read the alphabet? Absolutely not.
My apathy toward Asian tattoos applies generally to words. We’re idiots to get words imprinted on our bodies. Their half life is so unstable. Words are sacred. Type is meaningless. I have a little more respect for numerical tattoos for some obvious reasons, but listen. Words and type design are hard to get right, and impossible in Asian script, so if we’re all idiots, then no one is. Let’s comic sans some kanji for “Old Beach” on our ankles.
I’m not saying abstract decorative tattoos are better. I have a golden ratio framing my heart because I thought I was a romantic genius twenty years ago, but here’s the thing: literally no one I’ve met has ever cared. No one cares about my abstract tattoo, no one cares about your abstract tattoo, none of our abstract tattoos is so interesting it’s the first thing someone points out. Just trust me on this one. We as tattooed people think it’s much cooler than anyone else does. I’m sorry this is true and you’ll get over it just as I’ve gotten over it.
I’ve only been tattooed twice and both times, I was coming out a romantic enterprise so obliterating it had physiological consequences—not chlamydia or pregnancy, ha ha—I mean that the affairs were so profound I lost too much weight, experienced hypertension, etc. I’m laughing as I tell you this because it all just feels like part of the same gesture: an accession of bodily signifiers. I guess I believe in the posterity of heartbreak and its superficial effects to be worth commemorating with permanent narrative.
But we don’t avoid falling in love because we’re scared of the pain.