Sunday, April 25, 2010

"Strong Willed Woman"

from: Jaime S.
date: Sat, Apr 24, 2010 at 2:21 PM
subject: So I got a tattoo...

Hey guys, my name's Mari. I've always been a fan of the blog, and I was wondering if you could verify my tattoo's meaning.

I'm a foreign language major, and I've studied both Mandarin and Japanese in the past. I decided to translate the meaning of "strong willed woman" into 英気女 (eiki onna). So... is this correct? I sure hope so!

I sent you a pic, too. Thanks a lot.

eiki onna

At the very least the characters are written correctly as if it was supposed to be Japanese.

Unfortunately, 英気女 does not mean "strong-willed woman" in Japanese.

It is more like "brilliant woman" or "woman of excellent ability" if they were to translate it literally. But even this is not a proper translation because 英気女 is not grammatically correct in Japanese.

It lacks the proper grammatical bits and such, so it sounds very brusque and looks sort of "faux Chinese" to a Japanese person. To be proper, they would need to be written 英気に富んだ女性 [eiki ni tonda josei] if "brilliant woman" was intended.

But it cannot be proper Chinese because the simplified character form is used only in Japanese. In Chinese, only the character forms (traditional) or (simplified) are used.

Another problem is that it seems quite inappropriately boastful and prideful for someone to tattoo themselves with "brilliant woman" in a Japanese context. One would only say this sort of thing about someone else, or as a goal to strive for, and not as a label on your own body. The most common usage of 英気 in Japanese is in the phrase 英気を養う [eiki wo yashinau] which means roughly to "rest up to be able to demonstrate one's full ability."

Certainly there are other, much better, ways of saying "strong-willed woman" in Japanese. One might be 意志の強い女性 [ishi no tsuyoi josei].

Better luck next time,

Alan & Tian


  1. If you're a regular reader of this site, AND a languages student, why the hell didn't you double-check this before having it added to your hide?

  2. I'm "only" Chinese in the fourth semestre and even I know this is wrong.

  3. The [noun]おんな formation does sometimes occur in Japanese to mean a woman characterized by the [noun]--雨女, 雪女, and 商売女 come to mind, and a little googling reveals a gamer blog called ゲーム女の日常. Mari is probably trying to make a new compound word of this form.

    Not that I'm asserting that it's "correct" or that an average Japanese person would immediately think the intended thing upon seeing it, merely that it's not totally unprecedented to drop all the connectors. Certainly [noun]の女 or the like is more understandable, and I'm not sure how one would be characterized by 英気 in the way of those other examples anyway--as previously mentioned, that's likely not the word she wanted.

  4. Even if it had been 氣 or 气, it wouldn't work in Chinese, either, since 英氣 doesn't mean anything that makes sense in Chinese.

  5. a foreign language major who didn't check her translation before getting it tattooed...

  6. Yup, and this is why I only allow my mediocre Japanese to fill up pages of paper, not my skin.

  7. I think the worst part is that if you knew anything about the Japanese you would know how modest they are. As already stated in the response to you, this is very boastful and very much against the culture.

  8. It would also be worth noting that having a tattoo now means you cannot go to pretty much any hot spring bath in Japan ever.

  9. There is a Japanese regionalism that comes close. It's はちきん "hachikin" and refers to a strong-willed woman from the Kochi area. Unfortunately, there is no kanji equivalent. It is only spelled using hiragana.

  10. I kind of like the idea of a boastful Japanese tattoo. I think the supposed penchant for modesty is just a particular way of speaking.

    Just because things are said obliquely or politely doesn't mean that the sentiment behind it is modest, especially considering the arrogant nationalism and even racism of many Japanese people.

  11. isnt the comment "arrogant nationalism and even racism of many Japanese people" in itself a racist comment? lol

  12. Anon @6:58 AM:
    LOL That is a very perceptive observation. I can envision an argument between 2 people:
    "You are a racist and nationalist!"
    "No, YOU'RE a racist and nationalist!"
    Ad infinitum...

  13. I don't think that it is all that bad.

    As dvarin points out -onnna is used in compounds and from goo's dictionary,


    And genki is used with onnna, genkionnna which, a less boasty, and a far more common compound, I think would have been better.

    While Japanese are pretty humble, they give very un-humble names and chinese characters to their children, including 英 (hideki and eiko).

    I get the impression that the writer of this blog wants to find fault uses of Chinese characters. Fair enough. I like a bit of Engrish every now and again.


  14. Re: nationalism: It seems to me like characterizing Japanese as "modest," etc., is orientalist and racist in itself. They're just people, just like everyone else...

  15. @Glenn, 英氣 actually does mean something in Chinese -- it means "Heroic Spirit, Courageous Soul".

    I personally don't see it used alone on a regular basis, you probably would see the term more often in literature and such. It's usually used as part of a phrase like "英氣逼人" and "英气勃勃".

    I guess depending on how you use it, it's usually implied that something/someone is strong and confident -- emitting a sense/an aura of confidence and pride?

  16. ’is orientalist and racist in itself. They're just people, just like everyone else... ’

    Yes, we're all people, but the way people interact with each other and the general tone of a society is different for every culture. Saying so isn't 'racist'.

  17. From a Chinese/Confucianist perspective, it is not 孝 to desecrate the pure skin your parents gave you.

  18. lol everyone is racist, regardless of how they present themselves or rationalize their bigoted sentiments.

  19. Why would you get a tattoo in a language you've only studied "in the past"? And why wouldn't you double check before you got the tattoo? Why?