Pictures: Terrible Kanji Tattoos With Their English Translations

It’s possible that the people in these pictures actually wanted things like “Chicken noodle soup” tattooed on their body (chicken noodle soup is delicious), but we’re guessing they probably didn’t.

Note that these tattoos are in Chinese but, as the Japanese writing system originates from China, many of the characters are the same.

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Via: Buzzfeed

Pictures (modified by Buzzfeed): Hanzi Smatter, Epic Chinese Tattoo Fails, plchinese, Spider Daily, bbs.tiexue.net, Baike

160 thoughts on “Pictures: Terrible Kanji Tattoos With Their English Translations

  1. Interesting blog. Just to be sure, though, 小畜、大過 are two diagrams from the Book of Changes. 宦官 is indeed very bad. It means ‘eunuch.’ Not sure any guy wants to be that.

    • It doesn’t mean matrix. It reads “魔(ma)鳥(tori)樟(kusu)” depending on how you read it. But the Kanji themselves mean “Evil” “Bird” “Camphor tree”.

    • Nope. It does not mean “Matrix”, Roy. It means exactly what they say it does. This is why getting a tattoo in another language is a bad idea unless you truly know what it says.

      • haha….now i think this is where it came from.
        First, Matrix as translated phonetically into Japanese as “matorikkusu”.
        Then breaking it into single phonetics: ma – tori – kusu
        Then translate Chinese character 魔 (magic, witchcraft, etc) into Japanese and its resulting pronunciation always starts as “ma-” regardless which meaning of the character you take.
        Chinese character 鳥 (bird) translated to Japanese and pronounced as “tori”
        Chinese character 樟 (champhor tree) translated to Japanese and pronounced as “kusu”
        There you go……. this is either a very smart play with languages or a screwed up translation by people who do not fully understand the languages involved, coz putting these 3 characters 魔鳥樟 together does not mean anything in any languages.

    • no. in japanese, Matrix would be written in katakana, NOT in kanji. the pronunctiation “ma tori kusu” as a result of the three kanji characters there, written in kanji, is not MATRIX. if you wanted ma-tori-kusu for matrix, it would be マトリクス。 Even then, i don’t think matrix would be written that way in Katakana either.

      And 樟 is kusuNOKI, not just kusu. So in every scenario/angle, it’s all wrong… terribly wrong.

      • Yeah, it seems unlikely that it was a deliberate choice of Kanji to spell out “Matorikusu” Though that is kind of cute, but “devil chicken in some obscure species of tree” doesn’t really say much, not much commentary or humor value, so whoever did it probably just looked up a bunch of random characters in a Japanese dictionary, picked the one’s that looked coolest (devil, meaning aside, and chicken, are pretty cool-looking as kanji go) and had them inked permanently onto their bodies (like morons — how about inking some Arabic on and finding out later it spells “Down with Allah,” genius?).

        I have no idea how those characters would be read in Chinese.

        Having said all that, it is a valid humor form, in Japanese, to make puns and double-entendres where the pronunciation of the characters and the literal meaning of the characters themselves mean two different things and has an ironic or humorous sense. This can be using all-Japanese or with Englishy stuff, too. A couple of ma-ma-ho-ho examples (let me know what you think!) are:

        何故東京での新婚夫婦は、主人が大阪へ仕事で移動されたから子供が作られなかったでしょうか。単身不妊(単身赴任)だからさ。(^_^)

        母が誕生日にケーキを作ってくれなかったら、不ケーキ(不景気)な誕生日だな。

        However much you appreceiate the above, I think it’s fair to say that “The 魔鳥楠 has you, Neo” is not an especially good one. (^_^).

  2. On #2 how are you getting “that too” from 後身?I bet anything he’s trying to say “this is reincarnation” or something to that effect, it’s just not a great way to say that.

    • I meant to say “tattoo” and now that I look at it maybe it is 纹身, my mistake! Bad calligraphy though. Ignore my comments haha

  3. Some of these are just picking the wrong word (or missing a radical)… the turgid mold looks like it was supposed to be ‘gravestone’ 墓碑 and husband hand was a helping hand: 扶手

  4. Some of those translations are wrong, and they and they are exaggerating for dramatic effect.

    The 9th one on the list, with the basketball player, is 可以 (pronounced kěyǐ in mandarin) which is an operative verb, and literally means “can, may” or “possible”.
    Example: 可以进来吗?(Kěyǐ jìnlái ma?) = May I come in?

    I’m assuming he was wearing it with some artistic license, using the third definition that something is possible.

    I recognized this word immediately as it is a basic word in Mandarin Chinese.

    Furthermore, there is 1) a difference between traditional and simplified Chinese; 2) the possibility of difference between Japanese Kanji and Chinese characters in their definition.

    Although Kanji (漢字) does literally mean “Chinese characters” in Japanese, it is only their borrowed origin, and the meaning of a character in Japanese and Chinese can differ.
    Example: 行 meaning “to go” in Japanese, while 行 (xíng) means “to be okay” in Chinese.

    These are elementary characters. It is important to remember that while basic compound characters can be identical, when combined to make a complex word the meaning can differ between the two languages.

    For instance, going back to the original example, 可以 as a word does not exist in Japanese. However, alone 可 is listed in the dictionary as “can; do not; mustn’t; passable; should not” and 以 is listed as “because; by means of; compared with; in view of”.

    NOTE: I am not putting the Japanese pronunciation because how the kanji is spoken phonetically depends on whether it is kun-reading or on-reading.

    • I don’t have a Chinese keyboard but “xing” in Chinese does mean ‘to go’ as well as ‘to be okay’. You know the idiom “wo xing wo su”, to go as one pleases? There are multiple meanings/usages for most Chinese characters. Adding to the complexity is the fact that many Chinese words contain two to three characters that mean totally different things from their individual character’s meaning.

      I don’t think any of the tattoos were meant to be kanji at all. They are Chinese words that might make some sense when read as two character words but when read as individual characters are gibberish.

      I seriously can’t imagine a harder language than Chinese for English speakers to learn. They’re the two most evolved languages around yet are diametrically opposite from each other. English with its grammar tenses that don’t exist in Chinese and Chinese with its tonal system that doesn’t exist in English and infinite characters. If I hadn’t been forced to go to Chinese classes for 10 years, I wouldn’t be able to understand it, even if the perfunctory level I do today.

      • Good points about the tones…but the tenses — English really only has two: past and present, and the rest done with these awful, messy helping verbs. I live in Idaho, and in the dialect here there really are those two tenses only, just like Chinese.

        Both languages are word-order-based, or “uninflected”, which is totally unlike Japanese, or Finnish or Latin. That makes the grammar simpler, in a lot of ways.

        I would say that Japanese is one of the hardest languages for English speakers, and vice-versa, because of not only the character sets, but also the insanely-different (highly-inflected) grammar.

        The pronunciation of Japanese is super-easy, though (like Spanish), so that’s okay.

        Chinese and English both have super-hard pronunciations, which, unfortunately, do not overlap very much. They both have over a dozen distinct vowels (I think), English has a trilled “r” in some dialects, which is not uncommon but also considered not easy, and the dental fricative “th” (voiced and unvoiced) and Chinese has all those whacky palatals and stuff, plus the bilabial plosives (p/b) are subtly different across the two, which is kind of why Bejing/Peking flips back and forth, etc.

        The tones are crazy, though, but English tones (convey semantical (?) rather than lexical (?) meaning) aren’t a cakewalk, either, and it took me months to learn to grunt in Japanese halfway decently, by the way.

        The characters are tough, but both a blessing and a curse for English speakers. I can read some Japanese texts that I can’t pronounce, for example, or understand better stuff if I read it where I might not understand much if I just heard it. The characters are very meaning-rich.

        Then again, English words have a deserved representation for not having much to do with how they sound from the way they are written, and there’s reason behind that, similar to why the Kanji exist.

      • Interesting post, brownangel!
        I have a question for you:
        When you say that Chinese and English are “the two most evolved languages around”, what do you base that view on; what does ‘evolved’ mean to you in this case?

      • A note on the tones – the characters are different for example :

        mā 媽 mother
        má 麻 hemp
        mǎ 馬 horse
        mà 罵 scold

        I wonder if it was a situation like someone read the pinyin and was going for say a first tone meaning (mother – for example) and accidentally ended up with a second or third, thinking it was all the same word?

    • Nope! All Asian Hanji(漢字) came from China. Which means, even they may no longer use in Chinese language, but they can still be understand by Chinese meaning.

      • Not all, actually. Since Chinese and Japanese writing went separate ways, Japan has developed some new characters that are unique to the Japanese language, just as Chinese has very likely developed new characters of its own that are not part of the Japanese language.

        Or did you simply mean all of the 漢字 mentioned in this article?

    • i think the basketball player meant to have 能 for the actual intended meaning. saying 可以 just sounds ridiculous if they’re trying to say anything remotely like “can-do” or “possible” or whatever. 可以 to mean “possible” is just… i don’t think it contextually can mean the english-equivalent of what we mean by “possible.”

      • You’re probably right, 能 is probably the intended meaning. 可以 does not sound very complete, it lacks the context of an “exclamation mark”, the “ummph!” that 能 is able to put across on its own.

    • When I first read that picture it didnt make sense, but I realized that player’s name is Sean May, so I suppose he wanted to take the “may” meaning. still funny though.

  5. i was half drunk in bali and got tattooed with the japanese word “lucky” and spent the rest of my holiday making sure thats what it said. stick to english and save yourself some problems

  6. Stick to ‘American Kanji’ and prevent problems. Ex: Start with an Uppercase Omega, place a small o under each end, add a small hot wheels car on the right facing right. There you go, American Kanji, it says “Mobile Home”, 🙂 .

  7. これらの入れ墨のすべては愚かです。なぜあなたはそれが実際に言っていることを知らないことをあなたの体にいくつかのたわごとを置くだろうか?また、なぜあなたはあなたに絶対に何も意味しないようにあなたの体に何かを置くでしょう。あなたは、あなたの人生の残りのためのあなたの体で、この「傷跡」と一緒に暮らす必要があります。誰かがそれはそれは言っていることだ言ったので、それがクールに見えるか、という理由だけであなたの体に何かを置くことはありません。あなたの想像力、人々を使用してください。意味を持つ何かを思い付く。ただの本から何かを得ることはありません。

  8. 所有這些紋身是愚蠢的。為什麼你把你的身體有些事情,你不知道它實際上說的?此外,你為什麼把東西在你的身上,這意味著絕對沒有你。你必須忍受這對你的身體“傷痕”,為您的餘生。永遠不要把東西對你的身體只是因為它看起來很酷,或者因為有人告訴那是什麼它說。發揮你的想像力,人。拿出一些與意義。不要只是拿東西出書。

  9. 이 문신은 모두 바보입니다. 왜 똥은 당신이 실제로 말씀을 모르는 당신의 몸에 넣어 것? 또한, 당신은 왜 당신에게 절대적으로 아무 의미가 당신의 몸에 무언가를 넣어 것입니다. 당신은 당신의 인생의 나머지 부분에 대한 당신의 몸에이 “상처”와 함께 살고있다. 누군가가 그것이 말하는입니다 말했다 있기 때문에 멋진 보이거나해서 몸에 뭔가를 넣어하지 마십시오. 당신의 상상력, 사람을 사용합니다. 의미가 뭔가 올라와. 그냥 책에서 뭔가를하지 않습니다.

  10. 所有这些纹身是愚蠢的。为什么你把你的身体有些事情,你不知道它实际上说的?此外,你为什么把东西在你的身上,这意味着绝对没有你。你必须忍受这对你的身体“伤痕”,为您的余生。永远不要把东西对你的身体只是因为它看起来很酷,或者因为有人告诉那是什么它说。发挥你的想象力,人。拿出一些与意义。不要只是拿东西出书。

    • Google Translate doesn’t actually provide very fluent translations. The gist is there, but the rest kinda just sounds garbled. Very garbled. Google Translate might not be a good idea for tattoos either, jysk. (;

  11. I note that the one labelled “meanie crime -poet” actually reads “dangerous criminal” (the word is actually used on wanted ads by the police), so maybe the wearer did intend it—as a way of proclaiming him/herself as a badass?

  12. Fantastic blog! Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
    I’m planning to start my own blog soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
    Would you recommend starting with a free platform like WordPress or
    go for a paid option? There are so many options out
    there that I’m completely overwhelmed .. Any suggestions?

    Many thanks!

  13. Hi, I need help with a tattoo in Kanji but unable to upload the same. Please help me. let me know where to upload.

  14. That is why I made sure to get a person I trust and know that is pretty fluent in Japanese to write out what I got tattooed on my body.

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