Thursday, April 28, 2005


Reader "ZZ" emails:

"Hi Tian! That it's my first tattoo and it is supposse to mean 'destiny' is it correct? Thanks"

The translation for the tattoo is correct, but the second character is missing a horizontal stroke.

Typically in Chinese, "fate" or "destiny" is translated as 命運; and in Japanese, both 命運 and 運命 are accepted.

= luck, fortune; ship, transport
= life; destiny, fate, luck; an order, instruction

Sunday, April 24, 2005

"Fascism-Party Member"

I was a bit surprised by this person's Japanese tattoos. There is nothing wrong with characters themselves, but the context.

It is obvious that he is Caucasian and the middle tattoo states that he is a believer of "racial/ethnical superiority", then why did he get a tattoo in an Asian language?

= foe, opponent, adversary, dissenter

= Nationalist (or person believes in racial/ethnical superiority)

フアシスト = Fascism-party member

Saturday, April 23, 2005

"Entering Dragon's Luck"

The top character appears to be a miswritten , which is missing a horizontal stroke in the right side partial. When written correctly, the charact would mean "advance, make progress, enter".

The middle character was suppose to be , which is a simplified version of , and it means "dragon". Too bad it is also incorrectly written, it is missing a dot on the right upper corner.

The bottom character is correct and it means "good luck, good omen; happiness".

Friday, April 22, 2005

"Outside Residence"

The character means "out, outside, external; foreign", and the character means "residence, dwelling, home".

If the tattooed phrase was read from right-to-left, it would mean "the exterior of a house".

But if it was read from left-to-right, then it would mean "outside house" or "out house":

n : a small outbuilding with a bench having holes through which a user can defecate.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Loving Mother's Hope, Infurating Father's Knowledge

= love, be fond of, like
= mother; female elders; female
= to look at, look forward; to hope, expect

愛母望 could be translated as "loving mother's hope", or "love mother's gaze".

= air, gas, steam, vapor; spirit
= father
= wisdom, knowledge, intelligence

can also be interpreted as "angry" or "mad", as in "氣死你" which means "making you mad [to death]".

could then be translated as "infurating father's knowledge".

It is probably fitting, especially after when this person's father finds out he/she got random Chinese characters tattooed on his/her legs.

Something Extra on the Bed Sheets

Anonymous reader emailed me from Germany:

"Hi, I found this bed-cloth ad in a brochure of a German wholesale market ( Perhaps its interesting for your site, dont know, cant read kanji :)"

The verticle stroke in this character, what appears as , is too long.

= life, living, lifetime; birth

The circled character has an extra dot to it.

= woman, girl; feminine

= co-eds; female students

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

"Oil Crisis"

油断大敵 is a Japanese phrase that means "unpreparedness is one's greatest enemy" or "he that is too secure is not safe".

But in Chinese, the tattoo above would then read as "lack/sever of oil, big enemy/problem" or "oil crisis".

Perhaps the owner of this tattoo drives a large SUV?

= oil, fat, grease, lard; paints
= sever, cut off; interrupt
= big, great, vast, large, high
= enemy, foe, rival; resist

Mark of the Bovinae

Here is a question for all the ladies out there:

Would anyone of you mark yourself with a tattoo saying you are a "cow", or perhaps a "heifer"?

If your answer is "no", then why would you do it in another language that you probably don't fully understand?

Granted, there are cultures that do regard highly of the animal, but it is doubtful in the Western world. Just think when is the last time some guy could start a conversation by complementing a woman's cow-like features?

The character is a general term used for any member of the Bovinae family. If there is not a secondary character to specify, then on a female could be interpreted as "cow".

Update: Correctly Done and it means "pig".

Monday, April 18, 2005

"Peaceful Prisoner"

My first impression of this tattoo was "it could be a screwed up (wisdom)".

The top half of is suppose to be , not ; and the bottom partial should be , not a .

Or the guy really wanted "peaceful prisoner".

= harmony, peace; peaceful, calm
= prisoner, convict; confine

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Hell on Wrist

By marking "hell" on the left wrist, is this guy telling everyone that masturbating with his own left hand is like "hell"? Perhaps he is a "righty", and he has the tattoo of "heaven" on it.

Also he did not even get "hell" correct. The left partial in is missing a stroke.

= hell

Kanji Carpet

Reader Gert emails from Belgium:

"Hi! I got this carpet thingy from a friend but he didn't know what it meant & neither do I since I cant read Kanji :) Would you be so kind to tell me what I've got hanging on my wall? And if I put it up the right way.. :/ I'm very anxious to know what it means, thanks again!"

In the original image Gert has send me, the carpet was placed top side down. The characters on the carpet are correctly written Japanese phrases, although they do appear random.

= 10,000 years, also known as "banzai"
= beautiful, pretty; pleasing
= miniature plants, also known as "bonsai"
= sacrifice to, worship, festival
= way of harmony with the universe, also known as "aikido"
= victory; excel, be better than
= to look at, look forward; to hope, expect
= Japan; Japanese
= ice, frost, icicles; cold
= pray for happiness or blessings
= empty handed, weaponless, also known as "karate"
= wine, spirits, liquor, alcoholic beverage

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Aggressor Alert

Reader Margaret emails me a link to a Craiglist posting. The anonymous individual wrote following:

"Can someone please tell me what this means? So, I've been dating this guy and he just got this new tattoo. He claims that it says one thing but I believe it says something else. It's obvious that the "IV" in the middle means the number "4". What does the rest say? I want to know if he's really trust worthy or not. I belive he's lying... can anyone shed some light on this?"

The top three characters means "invader" or "aggressor", and the bottom two means "human life" or simply "life".

My guess is that he wanted "aggressor for life", but the tattoo artist did not have all the template available, therefore substituted Roman numeral "IV" instead. Clever.

With the "aggressor" tattooed on his neck, perhaps rest of the photograph would show him wearing a "wifebeater" tanktop?

Update: Tattoo man wanted Oakland "Raiders for life", instead he got "Invaders for life".

From the comments section, it appears this guy got screwed big time. Not only he got a tattoo for a wrong football team, the team tattoo he is sporting has been defunct long time ago.

This is especially hilarious when Oakland Raiders has a Chinese section on their official website. If only this man would spend a few minutes to do some reading, all the embarrassment could have been avoided.

The official team name for Oakland Raiders in Chinese is 突袭者.

Third Time May Be A Charm

I don't understand why this person decided to have all the strokes in each characters to be various width.

Out of nine characters, two of them are repeats, and both were still wrong. One would think the tattoo artist used the first one as a practice trial.

Starting from the left upper corner and descending:

1. (right conduct, righteousness) has broken one stroke into two dots in the bottom partial of .
2. (social custom; manners; courtesy) is correct.
3. (humaneness, benevolence, kindness) is correct.
4. (loyalty, devotion, fidelity) is correct.
5. (right conduct, righteousness) is missing one horizontal stroke as well as has broken one stroke into two dots in the bottom partial of .
6. (real, actual, true, genuine) is correct.
7. (brave, courageous, fierce) is correct.
8. (name, rank, title, position) appears to be missing a small dot in the partial.
9. (fame, reputation; praise) is correct.

Six out of the nine characters are correct, this tattoo has earned a grade of "D+".

Monday, April 11, 2005

Exotic "Otherness" Theory

Alex Strasheim emails me and offered an explanation called "Exotic Otherness" of why Westerners are so fascinated with Chinese characters:

I really love your blog -- it's a lot of fun, and I think that you're saying something about a fad that should be said.

One of the big issues your site raises is "why"? Why would people want text from a language they don't understand tattooed on their bodies?

I'd like to offer two possible explanations. First of all, you have to understand that you and I see these characters completely differently. At least I believe we probably do.

When I look at English text, I can't avoid pulling the meaning out of it. I don't see it as shapes of ink arranged on a page -- I see the words, and the meaning of those words comes into my head whether I want it to or not. I don't have a choice about that, it's completely involuntarily. I assume that you do the same thing with Chinese text.

With foreign characters, that's not what happens. I just see the design. Chinese and Japanese text is quite beautiful. I don't know if that gets lost in the meaning of the characters for you, but for someone like me, it's something I notice each and every time I see those characters.

So in that sense, the idea of having some calligraphy on my wall doesn't seem altogether bad. (Even though I don't.)

The other thing that comes into play is a little less pleasant -- I think it has to do with western people projecting things into the blank slate that the "otherness" of Asia provides. I don't think the stereotyping is explicitly negative, but it's not accurate, and it's narrow, so I think you'd have to say it's implicitly negative at the very least.

It's that exotic "otherness" that people want to reference with Asian characters.

A lot of people in the west like to think that Asians have access to wisdom that's hidden from us, or that the "Asian mind" is somehow different, or even that Asian people have sex tricks that are unknown to us.

This stuff can be really complicated, and I don't know what you can do about it. If you look at the representation of African Americans in American culture, you see a wide range of images, some of them extremely hateful, and others positive in unrealistic ways.

There's a long tradition of depicting black people as have access to a primitive yet powerful kind of folk wisdom, for example. You can see that pushed out really hard in a movie like "song of the south", and more recently in things like the guinan character on "star trek, the next generation".

But at the same time, the popularity of anime seems more sincere, and I don't think the American market is big enough yet to have much of an effect on what's being produced. I think that's an example of sincere admiration for something coming out of another culture, on that culture's terms.

I took some native American studies classes in school, and read a couple of essays by Indians who were sort of mildly upset by "new age spirituality" -- they felt that their beliefs were being distorted and trivialized, and that a lot of what was going on was sort of a scam to make money. It's not exactly the same situation, but it's somewhat similar.

I admire your approach. You point out the idiocy, but you're not too hostile, and you're not particularly angry about it. I think the moral of the story is that it's easy for people to misunderstand things, and the best way to clear up that misunderstanding is to have more dialogue with people who understand what's really going on.

Anyway, it's a very interesting site, and I hope you'll stick with it.

Friday, April 8, 2005

"You Saved Me!"

Reader Taryn M. emails me this great letter:

"Hey! I know you get tons of emails but I just wanted to say that I love your site. Reading it help me realize that I do NOT want or need to get a tattoo in Japanese, Chinese, or any language that I don't understand. I saw how ridiculous it can look when someone has nonsense on him or her either because they were misinformed or just thought certain characters looked cool/pretty/neat.

I think that those who do it think of those languages as just pictures and symbols without realizing their importance to their respective cultures. It's like instead of getting PEACE tattooed on them in fancy English script or whatever; they say 'I'll get its equivelent 'picture/symbol' in Japanese or Chinese'.

That said, its a fad that will be around for a LONG time. But thanks again for your enlightening website."

One thing has always bothered me is when people referring to Chinese and Japanese characters as "symbols". Granted, the Chinese writing is not formed like English alphabet, but the definition of "symbol" is:

Something that represents something else by association, resemblance, or convention, especially a material object used to represent something invisible.

Symbol may be fine to use a crow's feet inside a circle to represent the concept of "peace", but when used in a linguistic sense, they are not symbols. They are characters.

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Elektra: Forever the Dead Soldier is Wicked

Reader TK emailed me about Elektra DVD's cover starring Jennifer Garner.

At first I thought the cover was a Chinese bootleg copy due to its poor translation, then I realized it was a legit copy on sale at

The English title says "She's all that stands between good and evil", but the characters are translated as "Forever the dead soldier is wicked", which sounds like a caption for a zombie movie.

I am also wondering if the "wicked dead soldier" was referring to Jennifer Garner.

= forever; eternal
= die; dead; death
= fighter; soldier; warrior
= evil, wicked, bad, foul

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

"Healthy Empty Peaceful Fist"

Starting from the left upper corner and going clockwise direction:

1. It suppose to be , but the partial is all blurred together.
2. I have no idea what this character suppose to be.
3. with the partial missing a dot on the right side.
4. is correct and means "peaceful, tranquil, quiet".
5. with missing dot on the left upper corner and partial is missing one horizontal stroke.

One out of five characters correct, I would give this a "F" grade.

Monday, April 4, 2005

Secret Asian Man: Tattoo You!

Reader Marty has emailed me a comic strip from "Secret Asian Man" by Tak Toyshima.

I wonder how long I have to wait till my own action figure hits the market.

Sunday, April 3, 2005

VOA News: Americans Misuse Chinese Characters

Voice of America (VOA)
recently has aired a report titled "Americans Misuse Chinese Characters" by Ted Landphair based on Hanzi Smatter.

Here is some background information about VOA:

"The Voice of America, which first went on the air in 1942, is a multimedia international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. government through the Broadcasting Board of Governors. VOA broadcasts more than 1,000 hours of news, information, educational, and cultural programming every week to an estimated worldwide audience of more than 100 million people."

The two examples featured in the report are "Cow Elephant Chicken Lucky Unicorn Dragon Crane Liu Shallow" and "Crazy Diarrhea". According to Ms. Naomi Chaney, the owner of "crazy diarrhea", she got the tattoo "as a joke to people who get stupid shit tattooed on themselves without knowing what it was".

Broadcast audios:

873 KB mp3 via
873 KB mp3 via

Friday, April 1, 2005

McDonald Germany's New Asian Themed Ads

Reader Jenny G. emails:

"Today, I came across a new McDonald's ad running in Germany. Apparently, they have come up with an asian-themed menu for Asia Weeks there in Germany. My problem is that they have managed to make a shape on the top of the sandwich buns that looks a bit like the kanji for 'Strength', but not quite. So I was hoping you could help me out.

You can watch the TV spot on the web site. Just wait for their Flash page to load and you will see a section called Hin & Ham Wochen, with green bamboo. Click that, and in the bottom right corner of the pop up window, click on "Funk & TV." which will bring up the commercial. Anything you might figure out will help."

(Screenshots: 1, 2, 3, 4)

The character shown in the McDonald's ad in fact does not exist in the Kanji listing. It is indeed an incorrectly written (strength, power, capability, influence) with an extra dot.

Similar characters are:

= knife; old coin; measure
= tricky, sly, crafty, cunning
= strength, power, capability, influence
= edged tool, cutlery, knife edge
= manage, do, handle; deal with
= spoon, ladle; knife, dirk
= seven