Wednesday, August 31, 2005


The top character is correct and means "empty, hollow, bare, deserted". The center character appears to be a Japanese katakana, may be either or . The bottom character is incorrectly written or , which means "air, gas, steam, vapor; spirit".

空氣 (空気) = air; atmosphere

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Friend or Foe

Body Modification Ezine has the largest online gallery which features all sorts of body modification. One section I am particularly interested in is the Kanji tattoos, where clients and tattooists submit their pieces to be showcased. Although almost all the photos have some kind of caption, but most of them do not include translation and simply labeled as “Kanji”.

One of the recent entries (shown above) belongs to a tattooist named Babakhin Dmitry. I have emailed him asking if the photo was mirrored or it was indeed the actual work. He then replied that he has scanned in the photo mirrored and the actual work is fine.

Update: One of Hanzi Smatter's readers points out that in the photo, the tabs on the clients' jeans are on the right side, where they should be. Unless the clients were wearing jeans that are made with tags on the left side (which are very rare, almost non-existent), the tattooist has indeed tattooed the mirrored character on the clients.

= friend, companion; fraternity

The question remains:

If the mirrored photos are proudly displayed in the online gallery and assume to be correct, then how many suckers are out there with the actual mirrored image tattooed on them?

Mirrored examples:

Upside-Down examples:

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Radical "Dream"

Besides the disproportionably tattooed characters, (dream) is mirrored.

[かげき] are done correctly. In Japanese, they mean "extreme" or "radical".

Saturday, August 13, 2005

More Fat Please

Photo has been removed on behalf of Ms. Kerry Fitzmaurice's (aka. SpeedyTomato) request. The original can be seen here.

This photo of a spinal tattoo belongs to user "SpeedyTomato" on Several readers have emailed it to me and want to know what the characters meant.

Other than the randomness of the phrases, the only mistake I found was (fat, plump, obese; fertile) with its incomplete right partial.

= beauty
= upright; upstanding; honest
= allow, permit; promise; betroth
= luck(ily), favor, fortunately
= love, be fond of, like
= fertile
[まいご] = lost (stray) child

I could not stop laughing after I re-read the entire tattoo as one phrase:

"Upstanding beauty [hottie] would allow [one] lucky lost-child [run-away] [to make] love [to my] fertile [body]."

UPDATE: Ms. Kerry Fitzmaurice (aka. SpeedyTomato) has emailed me requesting to have her tattoo photo removed, and here is the reply I sent her:

Dear Kerry,

Thank you for your email. The reason your photo was posted on my site is because several visitors to both your site and mine have emailed it to me. Also to note that the photo you have on your site is mirrored. I sure hope that is not what actually appearing on your back.

I don't know if you knew this or not, but everything and anything people put on the web will be archived one way or another. Therefore even if I remove the photo from my site, it can be easily found via Google and other search engines.

I do understand the tattooed phrases are meant to be independent from each other, but the placement of them has made the phrases to mean something else. Which you may have already known does not sound very flattering (unless it was your original intention). That is what happens when people trying to piece phrases together from another language without fully understand them. Check out my buddy Steve's site

This is not the first time that someone had their photo made onto my site and then request me to have it removed. There was one young lady Naomi Chaney that had "crazy diarrhea" tattooed on her body, and I did agree to remove the photo after she sent photo to prove that she was indeed the original owner.

From the way my attorney advised me as well as information provided via Electronic Frontier Foundation about similar situation is that:

I am obligated to remove photograph from my site when the original owner objects in a written format (even though email is not really legit in some court, but I would accept it), but if the photograph exists else where on the internet, I have the freedom to link to it.

My advice to you is that if you don’t want people to see your tattoo mistakes, don’t publish it on a website. Better yet, don’t get a tattoo in a language that you do not fully understand.



tiangotlost at gmail dot com

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Iron Fury

This bad ass screen-print t-shirt by Utility brand is sold in Target stores. From the English caption as well as the Bruce Lee look-alike in a fighting pose, one would easily assume the Chinese characters on the shirt would be in the realm of some sort of fierce combat.

Not so.

means cloth iron.

Extreme ironing indeed.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Five Confucian Virtues

Reader Samantha emails in a photo of her fellow student from college. It is a tattoo of five Confucian virtues which represent "benevolence, justice, courtesy, wisdom, and sincerity".

From the look of this tattoo, he needs a little more work on "justice".

Monday, August 8, 2005

"May Be"

One young lady emailed me her tattoo with the following story:

"This girl who was learning Mandarin was doing body painting and I asked her to write one word on me that she thought summed me up. What she told she wrote was the word "maybe".

I took a picture of it and took it to a Mandarin restaurant and asked them to translate it for me. They said it was "can be" or "able to be". With confirmation that I wasn't getting "stupid white girl" tattooed on me I went to my tattooist.

I wouldn't have a problem if I didn't know for a fact that the tattooist has screwed up... Could you help me out and let me know if this has drastically changed the meaning of what I have on me or if it is now just gibberish?"

Although would be acceptable, the phrase "may be" in Chinese is translated as or .

The bigger problem about this tattoo is not the grammar, but the calligraphy is terrible. The middle character is too far apart with an unnecessary separation in its left partial. The last character is so poorly written that does not resemble the original character at all.

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" .

Monday, August 1, 2005

Hand Warmer and Air Conditioner

This photo was in the October 2005 issue of Skin and Ink magazine. Since there was no translation for the tattoo, I don't know if it was the owner's intention to have "hand warmer" and "air conditioner" tattooed on his body.

= hand warmer
= air conditioner