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.