Monday, February 28, 2005

The Chaos Question

From reader Jeffrey Berthiaume:

"Long time fan, first time caller… Just wondering what you thought about this painting – I’ve seen it over and over for the past few years, and have always wondered whether it was accurate [means "chaos"] or not…"

I have seen this character before as well. Even though, the translation for it has always been "chaos", I never knew if it is indeed correct or not.

One thing for sure, the character was originally in the oldest Chinese classical text "Yi Jing" (or "I Ching"), the "Book of Changes" (also called "The Book of Wisdom"):

In Yi Jing, hexagram 03, depicted |:::|: is named (chún), Sprouting. Other translations: R. Wilhelm, Difficulty at the Beginning; G. Whincup, Gathering Support; E. Shaughnessy (Mawangdui), Hoarding.

The modern day meaning of is "village, hamlet; camp; station". In Japanese, the word for "chaos" is . If the character is indeed , in Japanese this character has the meaning for "gather" but is mostly used nowadays as the symbol for "ton" as in "the cargo weighed in at two tons." According to the Chinese cultural section of, "chaos" is as well. (thanks Rex)

The word "chaos" originally comes from Greek and stood for "the confused unorganized state of primordial matter before the creation of distinct forms" according to Merriam Webster and is the opposite of "cosmos" which is "an orderly harmonious systematic universe".

As of right now, I still do not know if is "chaos" or not. Anyone?

Update: While trying to get more information regarding the true meaning of , I had email correspondences with Larry, who sells replica painting of on his website for $25.

When I mentioned to him that I have checked in "I Ching", which states means "sprouting", that is a little far off from "chaos".

He replies:

"Japanese and Chinese has many interpretations of kanji . The statement you made above is the representation of the kanji entitled chaos, "from chaos sprouts new life a new beginning . In its smallest form everything moves fast from neutron to proton... Chaos that begins life . As a forest is engufled by fire , life starts anew . As we stumble in life ... We find the good and move forward."

If that is indeed the case, wouldn't it be more appropriate to translate as "sprouting" or "birth", rather than "chaos"? Also, I asked him if he happen to have a literary source that can verify his statement.

Larry responds:

"I guess I could explain these thoughts on my site. And no , no source. As educated in the language as you seem. Most characters for Chinese and Japanese were from a simple drawing as a start. I would guess by the way the kanji is it is representing life starting."

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Kun Theater Ticket

When I forwarded the tattoo image above to my associates, each one of them had their own interpretations.

Aaron: "The first one is usually pronounced 'kon', and it kind of means 'a swarm'. But evidently it used to be read 'ani', which is older brother. Also I guess it also meant grandchildren or something at another time. The second character means 'certificate', basically. So I have no idea. Brother certificate? A swarm of certificates?"

Rex: "This has no meaning in Japanese what so ever. The first character is used in 昆虫 insects (referring to "variety" kinds of bugs) and is also used in 昆弟 referring to two brothers - - represents the older brother - but this is never used at all. Maybe they meant to write "fist" instead. What they have here, , is 'ticket'. Looks like they messed up again."

I guess 昆拳 may be the tattoo owner's original intention to represent the insect-like fighting style, which is common in . For example, there is a fighting style mimics the insect mantis called .

Todd (aka. "You Dork") points out the tattoo may just mean "theater ticket". Considering the second character indeed means "ticket", and there is a style of opera in China called 昆曲.

"Kunqu(昆曲, pinyin: Kūnqǔ), also known as Kunju or Kunqu Opera, is a kind of Chinese opera. It was listed as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2001. Its melody or tune is one of the Four Great Characteristic Melodies in Chinese opera." (

Does anyone have any more insights?

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Charming Tranny

Brendan and I had a good laugh about this tattoo today. The tattoo was correctly done, but we were laughing at its meaning in Chinese slang.

In Japanese, 【よう】 sometimes means "charming", but it would also mean "strange, weird, supernatural".

In Chinese, is used to describe "goblin; witch; devil; bewitching; enchanting; monster; phantom", or "seductive" as in 妖媚.

But in modern day, when someone is referred as a 人妖, it means he is a transvestite and/or transsexual, as in "chick with dick" or "tranny".

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Handicapped "Warrior"

The caption of this tattoo was "My first tattoo - It means 'Warrior' in Chinese".

Even though the English translation may be correct, but the tattoo itself is not. The character is missing a small horizontal stoke. Usually "warrior" is translated as 武士.

= military; martial, warlike

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Nine Art Liberty Jade

I sure hope these characters have significant meaning to the owner and he did not pick them randomly.

At first I had trouble to realize it was 自由 due to the poor quality of . I thought it was "" which means "growing wild/native" in Japanese.

Adam has commented that it is not but a poorly miswritten simplify version of , which is .

= nine

(traditional version: ) = art; talent, ability; craft
(traditional version: ) = skill, art; method; trick, device

艺术 (traditional version: 藝術) = art

= self, private, personal; from
= cause, reason; from

自由 = freedom; free; liberty

= jade, precious stone, gem

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

"Crazy Diarrhea" Has A Name-O

Ms. Naomi Chaney has sent in the following photos to verify the "Crazy Diarrhea" tattoo was indeed belongs to her.

* Photo(s) have been removed on behalf of Ms. Naomi Chaney's (owner of the "crazy diarrhea" tattoo) Request *

In an email statement to me, she said:

I am the author of the anon. note and the owner of the tattoo. I am assuring you that it was intentional.

I wanted to get some stupid tattoo in kanji that meant something totally outrageous. It was my own way of making fun of people that get stupid kanji tattoos but at leastt I meant for mine to happen.

It is kind of fun being famous for my silly tattoo.

This is actually some sort of friendship tattoo. My friend has 'liquor' and 'anus' tattooed on her. Though I'm not sure if she ever got them read to see if they were right.


Monday, February 14, 2005

That Bad Tattoo Guy

Phoenix radio station 103.9 FM The Edge has made a reference to bad tattoos this morning:

"Japanese symbol that guy, you are all included too, don't think you are not. Unless you have spent time in Tokyo, you have no need to link yourself to its culture. After all, When is the last time you see a Japanese dude with 'Brave' written in English across his ankle?"

clip: badtattoo.mp3

(thanks to Elizabeth for the tip)

Friday, February 11, 2005

"The Mother Ten Thing Are Expensive"

Via Flickr, I saw this photo with caption of "Cindy, a beautiful canvas". I wish I could say the same about the artist, but unfortunately the mistakes are so obvious.

The first character is correct and means "mother".

The second one, I am not sure if it was suppose be a Christian cross, means "ten" with four sparkling flares, or means "rice" which also phonetically translated as America in Japanese.

The third one is a mistake. The character is vertically mirrored. When written correctly, means "thing, substance, creature".

The last character means "expensive, costly, valuable".

Even if all the characters are correctly tattooed, the translation would still be:

"The Mother Ten Things Are Expensive"

What does that mean exactly?

Update: Todd thinks this tattoo means "Expensive American Malt Liquor":

It is 母米物貴. "母米" is from "酒母米", as in "American malt liquor". The whole thing means "expensive american malt liquor".

Could anyone verify this?

Thursday, February 10, 2005

"Crazy Diarrhea", The Legend Continues

* Photo(s) have been removed on behalf of Ms. Naomi Chaney's (owner of the "crazy diarrhea" tattoo) Request *

The original can be viewed at

In October 14, 2004, when I first saw this tattoo, I was stunned and speechless. It literally means "crazy diarrhea" in both Chinese Hanzi and Japanese Kanji.

= crazy
= to flow out, diarrhea

One comment from the supposely owner of the tattoo (he/she submitted the comment anonymously and there is no confirmation) claimed that:

"I knew pretty much what it meant and got it as a joke to people who get stupid shit tattooed onthemselves without knowing what it was. Though yes I thought it meant violent diarrhea, crazy diarrhea isn't too far off. I had help from an asian friend of mine to pick this out."

I wonder if this is the same person, or there has been a "crazy diarrhea" cult spawned.

Wednesday, February 9, 2005

"Extremely Military Affairs Stopping"

The first top two "characters" are just partial radicals, which have no significant meanings. The next three are random characters:

= extreme, utmost, furthest, final
= military; martial, warlike
= stop, halt, desist; detain

In other words, the tattoo is complete gibberish.

Sunday, February 6, 2005

"The Fiercest Calm I've Been In" Ring

The line of "You are the fiercest calm I've been in" is from Tori Amos' song "Concertina".

However, the Chinese characters on the outer surface of this ring are random phrases, and the same ring showed up on another page with different inner engraving.

= inspiration

= fortunate; lucky

= thick; substantial; greatly

= flattering love

= chatter like old woman; cheerful; beauty

= passion