"If we ever do get married, I’d like to take your name,” Ken tells his girlfriend, alluding to the dead-end fate of his family. The Tattoo (2004) shows the dynamics of Ken’s life as a man of Japanese descent in Hawaii. Although he once dreamed of a new life in town with a gentle wife, his fate does not easily allow it. The author captivates readers by effectively using the medium of tattoo to vividly depict the character’s feelings.
Losing his mother at an early age, Ken Hideyoshi grew up under the abuse of his alcoholic father. Tired of his monotonous life in the country, he moved to the city where he worked at Club Mirage and indulged in an extravagant lifestyle. Later he and his Korean employer’s daughter, Claudia, fell in love with each other, but her mother tried to intervene by sending three men to threaten him. However, he killed them and ran away with Claudia. He tells his life story to his speechimpaired cellmate, Cal, who gives him a tattoo of a symbol illustrated in the Book of the Void (1645) by Miyamoto Musashi.
The title of the book tells readers that the tattoo has significant meanings. First, it apparently highlights Ken’s samurai spirit. It is also embodied in his appearance; his hair is the same as that of Miyamoto Musashi, a legendary swordsman in Edo period. His disposition started to form when fear “seeped out of his pores” and he needed “the salty concoction of hate and pride.” This reflection alludes to his violent father and discriminatory classmates. At the same time, it implies the agony of his identity amidst patriotic Japanese grandfather and Japanese mother who taught English.
▲ The cover of The Tattoo
Another significance of tattooing is the interaction between the tattooist and the subject. Through physical touch, they build a sense of intimacy. Also, the leisurely time spent during the process enables Ken to reflect on his past and tell it to his mate. This leads Cal to realize the two are similar and they confirm their affinity. “Hey, even though I’m white, I know your story because it’s so much like mine,” Cal conveys to Ken and they laugh together. The scene touches the hearts of readers by showing the sympathetic harmony of two people from different ethnicities.
The lasting tattoo also indicates Ken’s will to keep his son from the destiny of the Hideyoshi family. In particular, the Book of the Void talks about inner peace, which is what the family lacked. Ken talks about the influence of the environment surrounding a person and mocks himself by saying that “bombs are being built” in his hometown. Claudia murmurs, “Ken had cut the ancestral thread.” Ultimately, the book asks readers whether they have the power to pave their own path in life.
The Tattoo entertains readers with its original settings and keen insight into life. The title leads readers to ponder on the meanings of the tattoo, which can enable them to more deeply understand the feelings of Ken. His life story has a significance in that it conveys an important question about human beings, even though he ended up as a criminal.