Japanese Internet Reacts To The Ariana Grande Tattoo Fiasco

Since Ariana Grande revealed her new tattoo last week, the pop star has been criticised in the English-speaking world for cultural appropriation. But what does the Japanese internet think? Let’s find out!

Ariana Grande's New Kanji Tattoo Is An Unfortunate Mistake

To celebrate her newest single '7 Rings,' pop star Ariana Grande got a kanji tattoo. Unfortunately, it’s wrong.

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Japanese website Front Row recently explained how Grande was being called out in the English-speaking internet for cultural appropriation, which in Japanese is bunka no touyou (文化の盗用). Bunka (文化) means “culture” and touyou (盗用) means “embezzlement,” “plagiarism” or “misappropriation.”

For Japanese readers, Front Row translated Grande’s recent and now deleted tweet storm in which the popstar said her tattoo “was done out of love and appreciation” and that “there is a difference between appropriation and appreciation.” Grande also added that “all of the merch with japanese [SIC] on it was taken down from my site not that anyone cared to notice.”

Grande also tweeted that she’s no longer studying Japanese.

But what do people online in Japan think? The whole mess has been covered on 2ch (here and here), the country’s most popular bulletin board, as well as other popular boards like Girls Channel.

The comments sections on major websites like My Game News Flash and Hachima Kikou have also been buzzing.

Below is a cross-section of comments from Japanese internet commenters posted on the previously mentioned sites. Keep in mind that Japanese people who are born and raised in Japan, a country that’s around 98 per cent Japanese, have a different experience from those who grow up abroad as minorities. Japan has absorbed foreign culture and concepts for well over 1,500 years.

Even in 2019, the country continues to do so, explaining why some Japanese commenters seemed to have trouble with the concept of their culture being appropriated.

Also, these are internet comments so your mileage may vary!


“Who is upset?”

“I’m not sure I understand [what the deal is].”

“This is truly sad. I hope she doesn’t end up hating Japan.”

“What the heck is cultural appropriation?”

“What, using the Japanese language on merch is wrong?”

“Meh, Japanese people wear t-shirts with strange English.”

“Looking at this from the point of view of a Japanese person is uncomfortable because I’d say that the majority of Japanese musicians’ merch is in English.”

“Small charcoal grill??”

“Are Japanese people saying this [cultural appropriation]?”

“If this is cultural appropriation, then I guess t-shirts in Japan with English are no good.”

“Whatever. Japanese people have English language tattoos.”

“I think she should gotten a kanji tattoo after she finished her Japanese lessons.”

“People who are on the periphery are making too much noise.”

“Wasn’t kanji originally from China anyway?”

“You make your bed, you gotta sleep in it.”

“Cultural appropriation...? That’s curious.”

“People are such a pain in the arse.”

“I want her to make more Japanese language goods.”

“So, did she get the ‘small charcoal grill’ removed?”

“It is actually appropriation.”

“Japanese people aren’t good at English, but there’s English all over the place in Japan.”

“It’s people in America who are criticising her.”

“Don’t blame us in Japan! It’s not our fault!”

“Just like Ariana said, Japanese people are happy [with her using Japanese]. I’m happy that Ariana understands that.”

“Japanese people would not criticise her for such a thing.”

“This is causing such an uproar? She loves Japan and Japanese people are not making a big deal about this.”

“She asked her Japanese teacher and then got the tattoo. I don’t blame Ariana.”

“What’s cultural appropriation? That’s not something Japanese people would say.”

“Ah, the lady with the ‘small charcoal grill’? People have been saying stuff to her and now she hates Japan?”

“Japanese people use messed up English all the time.”

“This news is very disappointing... Ariana was studying Japanese and she was such a Japanophile that she tweeted to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu in Japanese.”

“Japanese people are used to foreigners making kanji mistakes.”

“She should’ve left her tattoo as ‘small charcoal grill.’”

“Blame Google Translate!”

“So, are Japanese t-shirts with strange English cultural appropriation?”

“Japanese people are extremely pleased with Japanese language merch. In Japan, I don’t think there is the concept of cultural appropriation for [foreigners] using Japanese language or Japanese designs. We do hate rip-offs [here, the commenter is referring to things like goods and characters being copied.] We’re happy when Japanese culture is spread. It’s unfortunate that the merchandise was removed.”

“This does not bother Japanese people... We’re just happy if people learn more about Japanese culture. But, ‘small charcoal grill’ is odd and that needs to be fixed.”

“Kanji was originally Chinese. If you’re worried about appropriation, then it’s impossible to do anything.


Comments

    That's awesome Japanese people litteraly saying there really not all that bothered by this.

    People really need to stop being outraged on behalf of others.

    I think the vast majority of the world doesn't give a damn about "cultural appropriation" it's only activists who are focused on political correctness or people looking for a reason to be angry.

    On a different note, I love some of the comments in the article.

      Yeah like this one “People are such a pain in the arse.”

        That was one of them :)

        “She should’ve left her tattoo as ‘small charcoal grill.’” was another.

          From day 1 I thought 'small charcoal grill' was an absolute winner. Has plenty of potential, if only from a marketing angle. Wont surprise me to see one pop up in a music video at some point.

          To me her intent to respect that culture was always clear, and even with an honest mistake that didnt change.

            I wish she'd changed it and the corrected version said "Large grill".

      I care about cultural appropriation, but people misuse that term like crazy. This was never cultural appropriation in the first place, it's just using some kanji characters on a tattoo.

        Good point. I think that's probably a better way to view it. A lot of the things people call cultural appropriation probably aren't. More like cultural migration or integration.

        Appropriation to me is when it is used to essentially support racist stereotypes. Wearing or using or eating or anything else based on you having an interest in a different culture to me is a compliment and an appreciation. Where does the #appropriation thing end? Do I have to stop watching anime because I'm not Japanese? Of course not...

          Remember when they released a Moana costume for kids and people lost their shit calling it "cultural appropriation"?

            I think the biggest problem with that wasn't the tattoos on the sleeves it's that the sleeves were black (or at least dark). I could be misremembering though.

              That was the Maui costume, which was like a padded bodysuit and had a darker skin tone raising fears of blackface. There are also multiple Moana (as in the character) costumes and people were wringing their hands over cultural appropriation. Both of which ignored that they're kids with no concept of either problem, who just wanted to dress up as Disney characters because they like them.

          Cultural appropriation is something like Elizabeth Warren claiming American Indian heritage, and then finding out that she has less American Indian DNA than the average European-American.

          Or Rachel Dolezal who dressed and styled herself as a black woman while having no known African heritage.

          Or Australians claiming to be aboriginal when they are obviously Anglo AF.

            There are plenty of Australian Aboriginals who are "clearly white af" and are definitely not cultural appropriating or seen as cultural appropriating by the majority of aboriginals. Aboriginality is inclusive, not exclusive. This partially because of the Stolen Generation - there are a TON of lighter skinned Aboriginals who were forcibly assimilated into white culture because the government literally had a plan to breed out aboriginality. When those affected reconnect, when biracial children identify as aboriginal, they are reclaiming and continuing cultures that the government tried to stamp out. A lot of them have families and mob who "look aboriginal" who want them to identify as aboriginal. And if your mob and people say you are aboriginal, you are aboriginal. So don't judge those who are too white for you - maybe they have one great grandfather who was aboriginal and they had a privileged upbringing and are trying to get benefits they don't need. But probably they are accepted by their community and the community is thankful for their presence in it.

              government literally had a plan to breed out aboriginality

              Sure buddy.

                That did happen though. Obviously they don't phrase the law to say something as obvious as 'breed out the blacks', but key people involved in creating the legislation had made their intentions clear. For example, A.O. Neville, Chief Protector of Aborigines for Western Australia, famously said this in Canberra:

                Are we going to have a population of 1 million blacks in the commonwealth, or are we going to merge them into our white community and eventually forget that there were ever any Aborigines in Australia?

                The Stolen Generations, and assimilation policies by the government were effectively designed to 'breed out' full-blood Aboriginals, take their mixed race children and either put them with white adoptive families or keep them in institutions until they were old enough to work as farmhands and servants. The 'breed out' term was even used by media and scholars at the time, since the word 'genocide' didn't exist until 1944.

        Don't disagree with you at all, but surely Western culture has been the most "appropriated"?

          Appropriation is one of those things that relies on context quite a bit. Often, one of the defining factors is the power imbalance between the appropriator and the appropriated. General cultural importance of a thing is a pretty big one too. I can't speak for others, but I've never personally seen any western cultural element used in non-western audiences in a way I'd say was offensive or even of cultural importance.

            If you say that "cultural appropriation" is wrong, it seems to me that you are also saying that "cultural segregation" is good. I don't buy it.

              I'm not saying that, no. Cultural appropriation is wrong, cultural exchange is good. They're not the same thing.

            Which is a big part of the reason why I have problems with people (and media) crying "Cultural appropriation" about *everything*. White person with dreadlocks? Cultural appropriation. White person wearing an asian style suit? Cultural appropriation.

            The bullshit claims in the media water down genuine cases to the point where it's impossible to tell anymore. It feels like *everything* is cultural appropriation or nothing is. Largely because they neglect context and reason when they make these claims.

      I also dont understand how it could be appropriation when tattoos in general are stl pretty taboo in Japan.

    I have a Japanese inspired tattoo with Kanji (it's spelled and grammatically correct) done by a Japanese artist in Tokyo, if it's cultural appropriation and shouldn't be done then the only tattoo I could have as an Australian would be the southern cross which as we all know is the brand of the bogan.

      Or a kangaroo shagging a koala. :)

      Or you have to start asking questions about whether a white Australian (assuming you're white) can still use English or Irish symbols.

      I have three tattoos, all of which are things that have a meaning to me and I think look nice. I mean the whole purpose of getting art etched into your body is for it to meet those two criteria (unless you're into gangs I suppose). Being told you're not allowed to get something done just rubs me the wrong way.

        people get tattoos that are meaningless and or are intentionally terrible. These are also fine.
        Get whatever you want done, it's your body.

          Why get something done that doesn't have meaning to yourself in *some way*? I didn't mean it had to have some mystical significance. Doesn't matter whether it's a favourite cartoon character, a band logo, your kids name, "mom", a skull, whatever, if it has meaning to you that's awesome. It should always have some meaning to you, even 50 years later.

          I don't see the point though if you go in and go "just gimme a random tattoo".

            I didn’t say random, just meaningless. I have a few friends who have had some free space somewhere and told their artist to put something there.
            There’s no personal meaning, other than the trust they had in their artist to not fuck them up. These are just as fine as getting a memorial tattoo or something with deep personal meaning.
            But even then, if you want to get a random flash done then power to you as well. I just hope you pick an artist who hasn’t ripped someone else off.

            Get whatever you want done, don’t hate on anyone else for what they choose to get done.

    It would have made a great manzai skit.
    "I got a tattoo, it says 'nanatsu no yubiwa'."
    "You fool, that says 'shichirin'."
    "Well I am a small grill."

    (For those that don't know, "grill" is internet slang for "girl", Ariana is also 1.53m tall)

    White people have appropriated cultural outrage on behalf of other races (see the Red Skins) don’t have issues with this kinda stuff.

    In the future this will be seen as actual racism. Being sensitive can be insensitive to actual problems.

      Reverse racism maybe, being so vocally outraged so that people couldn't possibly think your racist.

        That's gotta be it, right? Like, at this particular point in history, vocalising what the majority seem to want from society makes you feel like you are a better person. Like that's your contribution to making the world better.

        It's not necessarily a bad thing in the long run, I guess. At least us whiteys are actually trying an empathetic approach to racial identity, instead of just going for the land and resources and giving them bibles.

        We'll get there. I hope.

    I think most people just thought it was funny that she had a mistranslated tattoo. honestly the thought behind it was fine, perhaps a little more research might have been warrented though.

    Now I want to get a tattoo that says "bunka no touyou (文化の盗用)"... :)

    I thought most of the responses were very tolerant and kindly meant. Maybe we in the west could appropriate a little bit more of that?

      Yeah well said. I lived in Japan for quite a while and generally found the younger generations to be super tolerant and open.

    Wait, who's been saying its cultural appropriation? All the posts and comments have been lol'n at the butchered Japanese, not that it's actual Japanese.

    文化の盗用 would probably look pretty good as a tattoo.

    The Japanese response to this kind of nonsense is pretty consistently "appropriate away, baby!"

    Even in 2019, the country continues to do so, explaining why some Japanese commenters seemed to have trouble with the concept of their culture being appropriated.

    I think the author's bias is showing.

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