Wednesday, August 25, 2010

from: Andi F.
date: Tue, Aug 24, 2010 at 11:31 AM
subject: Kanji translations

Hey there! I totally LOVE your blog!

ok, so I have 2 different Kanji tattoos. I researched them myself, and was after the Japanese meanings of the characters. I didn't trust a tattoo shop book for either one. The fire/Ice tattoo is supposed to me "to be devoted". The kanji is composed out of the negative space. I was after a verb form, and I am most worried about this one.

Tell me I did it right!! Otherwise, back to the needle I go!



andi tattoo

Granted this tattoo intended to be read from Japanese perspective, but 沒頭 literally means "no head" in Chinese, in other words "lack of common sense".

Alan has the following to add:

The tattoo is evidently 没頭る, which appears to be a "slangy" way of writing the Japanese verb "hamaru" which in itself is a slang way to say "be a fan of," "be absorbed in" or maybe "be devoted to" something like a rock band or a manga or some other pop culture phenomenon.

Originally, the verb hamaru was written 嵌る or 填る (or sometimes ハマる), but evidently due to the influence of the noun 没頭 [bottō], which means "devotion to" or "absorption in" something, people started writing the word like 没頭る but still pronouncing it hamaru. Perhaps one reason why people started writing the word with these new characters is because both of the old ones and were removed from common use in Japanese.

This use of different characters to write words is called 当て字 (ateji) in Japanese. These 当て字 can be used on a whim and there are no particular rules except what becomes popular.

Without common sense, indeed!


  1. BAHAHA. When will people learn not to get Asian words as tattoos?? They clearly have no understanding of any Asian language, otherwise, they would know that words can mean something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT in a different context!! Not everything is as linear as English... *headdesk*

  2. Also, it could be argued that the verb tense is wrong:
    ハマる -> to become absorbed in something
    ハマっている -> to be absorbed in something

    Actually, getting verbs in Japanese is never a good idea, since the politeness levels are built into the verb, and the current form sounds like a teenage girl saying, "Like, I'd be so into that..."

    Finally, I showed this to 4 Japanese people and none of them were able to read the ateji. Likewise, I have never seen ハマる written as 没頭る.

  3. Anon - You are quite right. I had never seen it written 没頭る before either. But before I went off half-cocked and tried to claim that 没頭る does not exist in Japanese, I googled it and found a few hits where 没頭る was clearly being used to write ハマる. I can only assume it is or was a passing fad.

    I wonder how many Japanese people will be actually able to read this guy's tattoo?

  4. Tian, your explanation about the spelling of hamaru is a bit off. 嵌る and 填る are both correct. In written Japanese kanji and kana are more or less interchangeable, so はまる is also correct. ハマる puts emphasis on the fact there is a correct character, but a phonetic replacement is being used instead.

    Infrequently used kanji are more likely to be replaced with kana. However, this isn't an evolution of the language, but merely a stylistic choice.

    In manga, words are frequently given the pronunciation of related words. The use of furigana, or ruby, as pronunciation guides makes it possible to read even these irregular spellings correctly. For example, 没頭る would appear with ハマ written over the first two characters, yielding ハマる.

  5. It's not wrong, perse, but it's pretty unnatural, that's for sure. From an aesthetic perspective, kanji words in Japanese always look better without any okurigana (the る at the end, which isn't kanji) - most kanji calligraphy is 2-kanji conjugations which form a noun.
    Incidentally, if I was inclined to get a tattoo with "to be devoted", I'd probably go with 献身 (devotion), but it doesn't look that great. Other, better-looking-but-less-accurate combinations would be 夢中 (obsession/infatuation, literally "in a dream") or 情熱 (passion). But then, I wouldn't get a kanji tattoo unless the kanji itself or the word in Japanese/Chinese itself meant something to me.