by Justin Hall
Violet: how one American marked herself Chanpon.
Aimee contemplating a range of calligraphy in her San Francisco home, March 2002.
Aimee had the tattoo placed on her upper forearm.
A close-up of the tattoo itself
Aimee leans on a pipe.
Aimee stops to smell the flowers.
Aimee smiles with a tattoo and a tree.
Photos of Aimee with her tattoo were taken by James Home.
Chanpon Tattoo links:
Tattoos: Fluctuating Symbols is a web page study by Amy Hamilton examining cross-cultural tattooing. She interviews people and provides pictures of their tattoos: "A small percentage of the people I interviewed had a cultural connection through their heritage. Others just wanted a simple design, easily found among the bold and black line tattoos found in Tribal and Celtic designs, and Japanese/Chinese characters." Most received specific Japanese character tattoos based on the translation.
Eri Takase is a Japan-native living in Florida. She has a web site, Takase studios, to promote and distribute her brushwork. So many people were asking for designs specifically for tattoos, she now expressly offers Japanese character tattoo design. She responds to a question about her clients: "I think there are two categories of people that order Japanese characters. The first group is primarily motivited by the aesthetics of the design. The second group while motivated by aesthetics are also motivated by wanting to keep the actual meaning of the design private. This latter group wants to commemorate or say something but also wants to be able to selectively decide to whom they will explain the actual meaning."
Some people are inevitably Chanpon - mixed-culture by birth, with parents and language, cultural backgrounds that reflect multiple heritages.
Other people feel mixed culture. The community and context into which they were born is not exactly theirs. These folks often reach to cultures that may seem "foreign" to those people around them, mixing up their own identity as they identify more strongly with the values or aesthetics that they find outside of their inherited setting.
The Internet has caused a blossoming of all this identity composition. Now everyone has a chance to amplify their stranger sides. Many people now online were initially drawn to the Internet as it provided stimulation outside of the straightjacket of their upbringing.
Aimee Cardwell may well be one of those folks. Living in Baltimore in the 1970s and 80s, she found she could express sides of herself in computer-based communities that she had to restrain at home. She summed up that side of herself in her online handle "violet" - "Through the Internet, and using Violet, specifically, I learned that there were other people out there who felt trapped, or self conscious, or that they didn't belong. It was so much easier to talk about problems or issues, including those concerning my marriage and family, in text, to people who wouldn't judge me so harshly."
Knowledge about computers and connections through the Internet contributed to a new life in San Francisco, a life that seems more Violet than her time in Baltimore.
Summer 2002, Aimee sits in a house in the Noe Valley district of San Francisco, sipping on Merlot and looking out over a sun-lit bay area. She's been divorced and employed in a few Internet startups; now facing an open future, she feels reborn. She recently decided to mark that with a merging of her identities with a tattoo - writing something Violet on Aimee.
Gesturing at her arm, she says, "I always knew that if I was going to get a tattoo, it would be this." Aimee has just taken the bandages off of a Japanese character she's had tattooed on her arm - ? - ???? - murasaki, the color purple.
After discovering "Snow Country" by Kawabata yellowing in her grandmother's attic, she developed a passion for Japanese film and literature. "The more I learned about Japan and Japanese culture and aesthetic, the cooler I thought it was," she smiles. She went to Japan a few times, returning again to Kyoto. Later, she would set up a Japanese garden at a previous home in Palo Alto, California, including harvesting stalks of bamboo to make her fence.
"I asked the Internet to translate Violet into Japanese, and it gave me a word for color and a word for flower. Different words. The color word was Murasaki," and a friend confirmed her suspicion that this Murasaki was also the name of the author of seminal literary work the Tale of Genji (UNESCO, Pacific University). "While she's not my favorite Japanese author," Aimee reflects, "I love her because I feel as though she provides a connection and a window into Heian Japan (the period that I most enjoy reading about), and because she's one of the few women who has made an indelible mark on Japanese culture."
Aimee began searching out good-looking Japanese character typefaces to inscribe on her arm; fortunately a neighbor intervened. Tomoko Lipp had been teaching at Jyoseikigyouka shiennkouza entrepreneurship workshops operated by the Dawn Center, at the Osaka Prefectural Women's Center. One of Lipp's students there was Ms. Tanaka, a retired schoolteacher in her young 60s who is now a teaching and practicing calligrapher near Osaka. Tanaka had suggested to Lipp that she might be interested in sharing her calligraphy in the United States.
Lipp recalls, "When Aimee Cardwell ask me about kanji fonts for her tattoo, I could not pick one from ordinary kanji fonts for unique and stylish Aimee." So Tomoko suggested to Aimee that she would have Tanaka draw up samples for Aimee to choose from.
Japan has a rich history of tattoo for social and political purposes. Today, tattoos have a shady reputation in Japan, a stigma due to their association with organized crime. This is a historical trend - the Joei-era Code from 1232 mentions penal tattoos: labelling social outcasts, and in 1872 the Meiji government banned tattooing as a sign of barbarism (according to the excellent article Japanese Tattooing from the Past to the Present by Mieko Yamada). Lipp points out in an e-mail, "Ms. Tanaka was very exited to work on this project but she had not seen a real tattoo in her life (many Japanese think tattoos are only for "Yakuza") I have to explain about tattoo art and about Aimee to give the right positive image about this project."
Tanaka-san became excited about the project after corresponding with Aimee through Tomoko Lipp. She sent over a number of paintings: a wide range of Japanese calligraphy, from historical writings of murasaki to modern, more artistic interpretations. From these thirteen, Aimee chose her particular favourite - a hand drawn version of the kanji for purple.
Tanaka's thirteen purples
(zoom up close)
Aimee found a place in San Francisco that would draw a tattoo based on the Tanaka's painting. Greg Kulz at Erno Tattoo in San Francisco offered to draw it in fair purple inks; a high-tech pigmenting, "like a birth mark, or a 'I'm done being birthed mark.'" (the mixture is half titanium dioxide and violet ink). It's on her arm, up from where you'd look at a watch, if the dial was facing inwards: "It's not designed to be seen, so much as for me to look at it." For her calligraphy, Aimee sent a book and jewelry she had made to Ms. Tanaka, an exchange viewed favourably by the middlewoman: "It was better than money," Lipp writes.
These days, Aimee reports that she is feeling more content with her identity, online or offline. She explains that she doesn't have to change her face now as she did on the East Coast. She pauses for a moment, and then continues, "Of course, I'll never be Japanese, but it's nice to be able to feel like I am connected to that beautiful culture in some way."
Aimee Cardwell can be found in the Chanpon forums
Ms. Tanaka can be reached through Tomoko Lipp (email)
Justin Hall acts as the lead editor and webmaster for Chanpon.org. He is a freelance journalist based in Tokyo and San Francisco, writing primarily about electronic entertainment.
Pictures of Aimee with her tattoo were taken by James Home, a freelance web designer and photographer based in San Francisco.
Posted by Justin Hall at 2002年09月13日 07:49