Monday, June 8, 2009

Translation of friend's tattoo

from: James H.
date: Sun, Jun 7, 2009 at 12:31 PM
subject: Translation of friend's tattoo

My friend Trev got this tattoo several years ago and he claims it means "survive". A Japanese woman in a sandwich shop gave us some reason to doubt this when she claimed it does not translate to that but she declined to translate it for us, She did say it was "nothing bad" though. As you can imagine I'm looking forward to mocking him if it is wrong. Any idea what it says?

I forwarded this to Alan Siegrist and he had this to say:

The tattoo reads する [sonzoku suru] which means to "continue to exist."

This is not the same as the ordinary meaning of to "survive" in English which should be translated [ikinokoru], when referring to a person surviving some sort of disaster like a plane crash, or surviving to old age.

The verb する is not used to refer to people, but rather some sort of inanimate object or concept.

Perhaps might be used in the legal concept of "survivorship" so that might be how the mistake occurred.

I guess this is sort of "close but no cigar."


  1. Another example of poor calligraphy. The first character has some spacing issues. The second is missing strokes, and has hane where you normally wouldn't see them. Plus the ito-hen is just ugly.

    There is also a lame factor to having suru tattooed on your arm.

  2. not to mention the characters are uuuuuuuuuuugly.

    is it just me, or does anything other than kanji (hiragana/katakana) just look stupid? in that sense, you should use nouns rather than verbs so you don't end up with ~する or (しなさい)

    I think if you did it right and well, kanji could look cool. although i wouldn't pick "survive", it just doesn't mean the same (ie its very literal).

  3. Looks like he just looked it up in a dictionary and went from there. 存続する is more like "continue to exist", so literally, sure, it can mean 'survive' or 'endure'.

    Having hiragana/katakana tattooed looks no sillier than having kanji tattooed--I mean, kana all originates from cursive kanji anyway. The combination of the two, unless it's a full and complete sentence, does look rather odd, however. KF