Sunday, August 7, 2005

Lack of Translation in Tattoo Publications

One of the biggest problems I have noticed among tattoo publications is lack of translation. Many tattoo publications would showcase artists' work and fans' tattoos of Chinese and Japanese characters, yet do not provide the translation, nor verify if the characters are done correctly.

Since tattoo is a form of visual art plus Chinese and Japanese are visual languages, sometimes people forget, or never cared about the characters' individual meanings, rather they just look "cool". That is if the characters are done correctly.

I have contacted Bob Baxter, the editor of Ink and Skin, about the problem of lack of translation caption in his magazine. I have yet received any reply yet.

Using recent issue of Ink and Skin as an example, the line of characters down the owner's spine (shown above) is visually appealing to some, but to those who understand the language, the tattoo is very poorly done and characters are incorrectly written.

Marisa of, Marc of, and I had a recent discussion about liability law suits stemmed from poorly done Chinese and Japanese character tattoos. Especially considering there are so many examples posted here on Hanzi Smatter. Marisa is actually currently working on a chapter in her upcoming tattoo law book. It will definitely be interesting read when it is published.

The second character is very poorly done that I had a hard time recognizing it. The third character is recognizable but with a few missing strokes. The last character had its left partial disproportionately small.

The third character in the photo above is so messed up, I can't tell if it is suppose to be , , or . The last one is not even Kanji nor Hanzi, but it appears to be a Japanese Katakana. Even with that conclusion, we still can't tell if it is "shi" , or "tsu" .


  1. So in essence, the characters are written like a 6 year old would write letters?

    Do the characters even mean sense or is it pure gibberish?

  2. 6-yr old?! My cat could have done better in its litterbox.

    The characters are gibberish.

  3. An = peace
    Ji = character in tai ji quan (taichi martial arts)
    Dao = Way (also used in a lot of martial arts, e.g. Tai Chuan Dao/Taekwondo)
    Gong = First character of Gong Fu (Kung Fu)
    And who knows what the hell the last two mean.

    So, I dunno. Some medly of martial arts characters? Perhaps the guy just wanted random martial arts characters on his back. Or An Ji Dao sounds like it could be a martial art. The way of extreme peace? Sounds like something a person wanting a tattoo would do. =)

    -Bill Kerney

  4. That last one looks like the water radical to me.

  5. The final character is katakana "shi". It is discernable because the stroke begins in the lower left. You know this because the line tapers off as it moves to the up and right. There is no hesitation in my mind to write that it is "shi". With "tsu", the stroke would be thick in the upper right, and taper off as it moves to the lower left.

    Additionally, in "shi", the two "dashes" are aligned vertically, as in a colon (:), as these dashes are. In "tsu", the dashes are aligned horizontally as in a quotation mark (").

  6. I hereby cast my vote for 犠 for the second-to-last character. What a horrible job . . . Wonder how much this person paid for that crap.

  7. Kyle: The last one is certainly not シ, as the long stroke never curves downward in シ. It is most likely the water radical.

    Further, you're wrong about the alignment of the dashes. In printing it depends on the font (many show the dashes to be diagonal for both) and in writing the accepted directions are horizontal for シ and vertical for ツ.

  8. The second-to-last character looks like a conglomeration of two characters-- and . Regardless of what it really is, it makes no sense.

    And I concur with the last anon--the final stroke in シ doesn't curve downwards like it does in the tattoo, nor does it in ツ, so that basically rules out katakana, and makes a strong argument for 氵 (water radical).

  9. Anonymous:
    The curve is due to handwriting error. I disagree that it is the water radical, as there is no character that is just the water radical, and the other characters are poorly written actual characters, I doubt they would end up just writing a radical at the end.

    As far as your accusation that I'm wrong, I think you need to look up the definition of "horizontal" and "vertical" again. You said, "horizontal for シ and vertical for ツ." However, the katakana right next to what you wrote are the exact opposite of what you said. The シ is vertical, despite you saying it's horizonal. The ツ is horizontal despite you saying it's vertical. Look at what you typed again, or google "definition:horizontal" and "definition:vertical" to learn a little.

    So, I'll stick by the katakana シ. The water radical, when written like that, has a hook in print anyways on the third stroke, so I stand by my assertion that it's not the water radical.

  10. My first impression of the final character was 之, which (in the final position} can mean "him", "her", "it" or "them" in classical Chinese. In other positions it can act as a possessive particle, an adjective marker, or even the verb "go".

  11. Considering the terrible calligraphy involved with all the characters already, I think Kyle is taking the last one too seriously. It could be "shi," "tsu," the "shui" radical, or even something else. With such bad writing, I don't think you could say for sure.

  12. Dunno why Kyle is fighting so hard for the last character to be katakana when it makes absolutely no sense that way.
    My vote:
    it's a horribly rendered 斗
    (an entire stroke missing)

  13. I recognize "an" and "dao," but none of the others. It's truly an ugly tattoo.

  14. Kyle: I'm the anon from earlier.

    Since we're clearly dealing with a tattoo artist who doesn't know what he's doing, and there is nothing to indicate that this string of characters is meant to be Japanese, I think it's definitely not シ.

    Furthermore, before accusing others of not understanding "vertical" and "horizontal," I suggest you read up on what a "font" is. On my screen, both シ and ツ show up with diagonal strokes. In fact, almost all of my Asian fonts show both to be diagonal. However, my statement about accepted directions comes from 9 years of Japanese study. I was speaking from my experiences reading actual Japanese handwriting. In addition, the fonts on my system that do tend towards one or the other show ツ to be vertical (yes, as in up-and-down) and シ to be horizontal (yes, as in left-to-right). Such fonts include: DFP勘亭流, DFP教科書, DFP痩金体, and DFP隷書体, all gotten from MS Office.

  15. "Dunno why Kyle is fighting so hard for the last character to be katakana when it makes absolutely no sense that way."

    You think the rest of that ink makes sense?

  16. Hey Tian,
    Nice site ya got here. I can't believe some of the things I've seen on here. I can't fathom how some people get such huge tattoos without being completely sure of the meaning. I happened upon your site through a posting from October 2004 where I guy had a massive tattoo down his spine that said "Field scary strong". And he mentionned he was drunk when he got it? That can't be a very reputable shop he went to.
    Regarding this brutal piece of work though...
    Wow - lotsa talk about that last character. Who cares! Neither of the katakana would make much sense even if it was written properly. The whole thing is horribly done and a good excuse for the victim to get some serious cover art done.
    But ya know, there's always some
    senseless English
    lurking around some skin out there.

  17. While we're on the subject of bad English tatoos, I saw one here in Taipei yesterday that said "ASS BIRD". Didn't have my camera with me...pity.

  18. I saw one here in Taipei yesterday that said "ASS BIRD".

    If you saw it in Japan, I'd make some clever guess involving "shiritori." ;)

  19. This is directed towards anonymous who claims 9 years of Japanese study:

    (S)he claims:
    "ツ to be vertical (yes, as in up-and-down) and シ to be horizontal (yes, as in left-to-right)"

    This is absolutely wrong. Period. It's equivalent to saying a '7' is acceptable for a 't' or '4' for 'A' in leetspeek. Or that a "2" can look like an old version of "a", so "h2ppy" is acceptable. No, I take that back, it's more wrong than that. It's about as wrong as you can get.

    I went and checked the fonts on my version of XP, and all fonts that I checked have "shi" with vertically-aligned dashes, and "tsu" with horizontally-aligned dashes. Of course, I don't have your fonts (since I don't use Office), but you never, ever, ever, ever, ever write "tsu" and "shi" the other way. I am only stressing this because I don't want some student of Japanese coming to Tian's site and reading misinformation. One of my pet peeves is people posting "information about Japanese" that is completely misleading.

    I even checked with my Japanese friends already. They said you are wrong. So, if my three years of study and JLPT level 2 (one level before native fluency) isn't enough for you, how about the credentials of a few native speakers?

  20. Kyle,Kyle,Kyle,
    I'm not the anon you're arguing with, but I think you completely misunderstood 9yrstudy's post.
    He/she is talking about how the characters are written (up-down strokes for ツ, left to right strokes for シ)while you,for some unknown reason, keep taliking about alignment. Show your Japanese friends all the postings, they'll tell you 9yrs is NOT wrong.

    Native Japanese speaker

  21. This is "9yrs" again.

    Maybe there's some miscommunication going on here, but I stand by my statements. And for what it's worth, I had JLPT1 3 years ago, and I've lived in Japan for more than a year. Don't talk to me about spreading misinformation.

  22. hahaha, "swear" , that's a good one, maybe the guy thought it was the f word in english, it's done very nicely though!! good tattooist.