Saturday, April 7, 2007

Beware of Bulls Eye Tattoos

My good friend Alan writes:

Hi Tian,

I thought we had pretty much covered all of the really silly tattoos out there so far, but evidently not. We have seen a lot of them already on their unknowing victims, but I just happened upon some of the tattoo “flash” with bogus Hanzi actually being sold on the Internet.

Here is one site:

The scary thing is that they are advertising that they have “thousands of professional tattoo designs.” I guess the hapless tattoo consumer is supposed to “download full size tattoos with the line art stencil a tattooist will need to transfer & ink the perfect tattoo.”

The tattoos in the “Kanji” section are hardly perfect.

Not only are there many kanji with poor brushwork, lots of them have completely wrong English translations like:

“Wild” – really means “color”

“spirit” – really means “child” but with an extra unnecessary stroke at the top

“child” – really means “evening”

“To Die Young” – really means “sky, heaven”

“Passion” – really means “rough, violent, coarse”

But the one that really cracked me up was this one:

生現 “Live For Today”

As is, this gibberish means nothing in Japanese or at least nothing like “live for today” and I don’t think it means anything in Chinese either. The only meaning I can guess is that if it were written 生きて現れる, this would mean “to show up alive” or “turn up alive” as if someone thought dead had appeared alive. Anyway, it sounds pretty spooky, like seeing a zombie!

I think the person who made this up just looked in a dictionary for the word for “to live” and a word that means something like “now” and thought you could stick them together to make “live for today.”

It doesn’t work like that.

The worst thing is that this tattoo appears on their “best sellers” page.

Expect to see these tattoos on gullible people near you soon!

I can’t believe they are actually charging money for this stuff.

Thanks for everything as usual.



Dodgy tattoo supply dealers are everywhere, buyers please be aware of that. After all, it is your skin these designs would end up on, these dealers could care less if you have made fools of yourselves.


  1. I'd say is more like "desolate," but I guess Alan was only talking about the Japanese definition. Either way, it's a far cry from "passion."

  2. Oh. Dear. God.

    My favourite (?) so far has to be 'longevity' (page 6) which left me staring at it open-mouthed for a good few minutes as I struggled to comprehend how someone could make that many mistakes copying one character - bits missing, bits added, bits turned into circles - and still think their efforts were good enough to sell. I had to look twice before I recognised it: at the first quick glance I thought it was Korean hangul.

    Close runner up is 'woman' (page 12) which looks like it is in the process of slipping on a banana skin.

  3. I just looked over their "kanji" section. At least half of the calligraphy are done so badly, they look like little kids wrote them, although some are okay. I also noticed a few other things:

    天使 (angel) is written backwards. Which turns it into complete nonsense.

    I really don't see how would translate to "dignity/honor"; although I do have to admit that I never use this word. Ever.

    There's an extra stroke underneath (woman). It looks like a katakana ノ (no).

  4. On a different note, I'm pretty sure the kanji used in "To Die Young" is , which does indeed mean as intended.

  5. On a different note, I'm pretty sure the kanji used in "To Die Young" is 夭, which does indeed mean as intended.

    Thanks for pointing that out. I was not familiar with the character 夭 but I am now. Now that I look more carefully, it seems to be written correctly, especially the top stroke which distinguishes it from 天.


  6. "Sunset" is my personal favourite.


    Jeanie Newby needs to stop helping people with kanji tattoos.

  7. Hah! The sunset one has to be the most ridiculous (right next to "Live for Today").

    And then there are the host of ones that might be correct, they just look like absolute crap--like the 'longevity' one (honestly, I can't tell what the hell it is either). Wife is another one (looks like they connected two lines that are supposed to be separate--hence the 'lopsided wife').

    Also, Grace looks like "thought" (supposed to be 恩 but they connected the radical to the sides to where it almost looks like 思). I'm blanking on the Command symbol--I keep thinking it's supposed to be the 令 from 命令, but I know I should recognize it...

    Anyway, all that aside, even if there weren't any mistakes on here, everything is so horribly written that I don't see how they can sell this crap. K

  8. I'm blanking on the Command symbol--I keep thinking it's supposed to be the from 命令, but I know I should recognize it...

    Yes, I think it's supposed to be 令. It is in fact the 行書 form of the character and not written poorly at all; it's just a sort of semi-cursive style of writing.


  9. If anyone is interested, here is a nicely written 行書 form of 令 in the upper left-hand corner of the image. You can also click on other characters here to see their cursive forms.


  10. Actually, I think this character 令 is in the 楷書 style not the 行書 style. The character looks similar in both styles, but 楷書 is a bit "blockier."


  11. 色 “Wild” – really means “color”

    and that's also chinese slang for "pervy". so, whoever that belongs to should never EVER visit chinatown. or look up girls there. poor bugger.

  12. The extension of 色 to refer to sex may be slangy but of course it's also classical.

    Mencius, championing nature as benevolent, faced a young critic who according to one of the first translations into English said "To enjoy food and delight in colours is nature."

    He meant "sex," not "colours." But it still doesn't mean "wild" as far as I know.

  13. 色 = Color? Sure, only if you are a 7 year old kid.

    Most adults or teens, if given no context or even in the context of tattoo, would associate 色 with sex, not color.

  14. I guess I should be glad I'm not a tattooing sort of guy :) I just surfed here from Like many of these artists, I have no knowledge of either Chinese or Japanese. But I love the informative commentary provided by you and the commentators. I knew English speakers were misusing Chinese and Japanese writing but I didn't realize how funny it was! Love the zombie phrase, too. A bit disturbing. I'll be checking in here more often. Thanks!

  15. Ha ha -- on Jeanie Newby's profile page she says:"I think that if the overall shape of the tattoo isn't right, it's not right to create it!"

    Obviously not one who practices what she preaches.

  16. The best wrong flash I've ever seen was one that had "酒" as "strength".

  17. Someone told me "se lang" was "wolf [in the sense of "pervy guy"] but I've heard "bian tai" used more in that context...I'm from Malaysia btw - regional usage?

  18. Someone told me "se lang" was "wolf [in the sense of "pervy guy"]

    I think you are right. 色狼 does appear in a Taiwanese dictionary with just that meaning. 色男 (iro-otoko) means basically the same thing in Japanese. Oddly enough, a PRC dictionary published in Hong Kong does not list 色狼 or almost any other words where 色 has the meaning of "sex."

    I don't know if this was because the PRC dictionary editors were prudes or what.


  19. 現- In reguards to live for today, dosn't the previous character literally translate to reality? or is my Kanji dictionary wrong? I'm confused on the zombie remark but I honestly don't really think this set of characters is so bad personally. but what do I know?

  20. Well i'm upset with the zombie comment as I had the live for today tattoo after beating cancer 8 years ago. I've just looked at my tattoo and although not from this site and from a little tattoo shop in england my symbols look very similar.

    The only reason I looked on here is I need the out-line touching up in and thought i'd put it in the search engine and this is what came up.

    I am so upset that a tattoo that I had years ago that meant so much to me doesn't actually say what its meant to say.

    Incidently can any of you tell me what would the symbols be for live for today?

  21. Googling for a meaning of 生現 I didn't find anything as you say, but if you invert the characters (現生)in a Japanese dictionary you'll find "cash, real money". In fact "生" is simply pronounced "なま”="raw", meaning in this context raw money. I don't think human beings would like to be tagged something like this in fact. Luckily this is written backwards and thus doesn't mean anything in fact.

  22. I got 生現 done in1998 while looking through a book trying to find a symbol for faith (couldn't find it) so I got this one. It was a couple years later that I went to a chinese restaurant and a girl there said it meant student or something but not live for today. There should be a reverse for english speakers. I guess I'll just tell people it means "live and learn" from now me any way. On the bright side, no one I know, speaks or reads chinese.