Tattoo Ideas: Chinese Kanji Characters

Kanji symbol for love
Kanji symbol for love

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.

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.


Name in Kanji: "Jamie"
Name in Kanji: "Jamie"

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Comments 12 comments

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GreatTattoosNow 9 years ago from San Jose

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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taylorblue 9 years ago from Canada

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

dale 9 years ago

looking for the symbol for willow tree-yanagi.\

can youhelp?

Fu Wei 7 years ago

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.

Shannon 7 years ago

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."

Granny E 6 years ago

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.

Eric 6 years ago

The kanji for yanagi is: ?

Jamie 6 years ago

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

dean 5 years ago

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 !

sylmone 5 years ago

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

John Smith 4 years ago

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

John Smith 4 years ago

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)

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.


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