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Tattoo Ideas: Chinese Kanji Characters

I have thirteen tattoos. I think they're all pretty cool (and definitely don't qualify as "bad-quality").

"Forever" in Chinese Kanji characters.

"Forever" in Chinese Kanji characters.

Written by: Jaclyn Popola

Kanji are Chinese characters used in a modern form of Japanese writing. Although they have recently exploded in popularity among Western civilization, kanji tattoos are practically unheard of in China and Japan. Chinese writing is way more complicated than the Roman alphabet. Unlike the English language, each kanji does not represent one letter. They are pictographs, meaning that each character stands for an entire object or concept. The lettering of the characters has an artistic quality, and the shape and length of each brush stroke is important in determining the meaning of the mark. There is no direct translation of an English word into a kanji symbol.

Most tattoo parlors are not familiar with Asian writing, which can cause the tattoos to come out backwards, upside down, or looking illegible. Because of the intricacy of the strokes, it is very common for one symbol to be mistaken for another that may look similar but actually means something totally different. There have even been instances of tattoo artists messing up kanji tattoos on purpose, knowing that their clients wouldn't know the difference.

Kanji symbol for love

Kanji symbol for love

To avoid this, be sure to do your research ahead of time. There are two types of Chinese characters: traditional, which dates back to the 5th century, and simplified, which uses less strokes per character and originated around 1956. The best method of researching your kanji tattoo would be to consult with someone who speaks Chinese or is a native of the country. Barring this, you could invest in a book of Chinese characters or do your research on any of the thousand internet sites dedicated to kanji. It is very important that you check with several reputable sources to be sure that they all confirm the correct meaning and authenticity of the character you wish to get tattooed.





jlee84 on August 19, 2018:


Want to find some using human translation? to demonstrate the accuracy of Chinese Character translation? i have found 1 website for chinese translation service with a reasonable price?. Can master the Chinese Character tattoos, Chinese proverbs, translate from English to Chinese and bring out the meaning to be expressed. Cheer!

John Smith on January 09, 2012:

Still looking in my book:

the third one. top character (Ten, or ame). meaning sky or heaven. the second character is shi. it means tenshi, Angel.

The fourth picture. it is the same first character for eternal. the book is ordered by stroke count, i could not find that second symbol (which could just be me). Whatever that pair means probably have to do something with eternal.

The main point of my posts are that chinese characters and kanji do not always mean the same thing! Kanji are taken from chinese characters. They may be modified. The japanese language may take the chinese pronunciation of the word instead of the meaning to pronounce a different word. (see link below)

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Essentially, if a chinese person is telling you that it means something else (looking at fu wei's post), then you can probably ignore them. Ask a japanese person.


John Smith on January 09, 2012:

I have a Kanji book. The first one does mean Eternal. "Ei" is one way to read this.

sylmone on September 26, 2011:

I love chinese symbol tattoos I love to have to again 1 thing I will love to have 2 tattoos 1 that says believe in love and 1 that says have faith in god

dean on August 11, 2011:

i have my girlfriends name is chinese symbols >>>> i downloading pic of internet then whilst i was waiting for my lovely chinese asked the owner what it said and he said faye :) ...... always ask around before you get its there for life !

Jamie on June 23, 2010:

I am looking to get my name done, does anyone know if the guys kanji tattoo on his arm actualy says jamie?

Eric on January 26, 2010:

The kanji for yanagi is: ?

Granny E on November 23, 2009:

I can't stress how important it is to double check EVERYTHING, my daughter now has the kanji for Amanda on her arm backwards. It is fantastic looking, and all it is, is the outline. But now that she knows it was messed up, she will never get it finished and will keep her arm covered from now on, because we don't know what it means if any thing.

Shannon on September 07, 2009:

My friend whose first language is Chinese translated this for me - it means "love is everywhere," or more literally, "there is no place where love does not exist."

Fu Wei on January 18, 2009:

Umm.... Half the tattoos above actually mean nonsense. Being Chinese, everytime we look at someone with a Kanji tattoo, 90% of the time we burst out laughing our a** off. I highly recommand not getting a Kanji tattoo unless your tattoo artist speaks and write chinese.

dale on October 02, 2007:

looking for the symbol for willow tree-yanagi.\

can youhelp?

taylorblue from Canada on September 21, 2007:

I have kanji on my body....its good to really know what it says before you get it tattooed....

GreatTattoosNow from San Jose on August 12, 2007:

You have some great pictures of Kanji or Japanese Tattoos. Just be carefully when getting a kanji or Japanese tattoo. I cant tell you the number of times these go wrong. Get a native speaker of the language to check the design before getting it done. Nothing like having a mirror image of a kanji word that now means nothing.

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