Don’t Let Your Kanji Tattoo Get “Lost In Translation”

What? National humiliation? Well OK, national humiliation is an unlikely outcome, but an article in the March 1st, 2005 Washington Post Express shows that the possibility is there. “Lost in Translation” looked at the real dangers facing the unwary consumers who get kanji tattoos.

I am not joking when I say “real dangers”. But neither am I referring to unhygenic tattooing practices. What I am talking about is toe-curlingly appalling linguistic blunders. Specifically, I mean kanji combinations like these:

– Extremely Military Affairs Stopping

– Crazy Diarrhea

– Weird (tattooed on one B. Spears)

Yes, these are phrases that real people (yes, Britney Spears is a real person) actually have had tattooed into their skin.

To be honest, I am not entirely surprised at these and other errors. After all, I have seen many reversed images of kanji being offered for tattoos, and kanji jewelry that simply did not mean anything like it was supposed to.
https://www.thuphapthanhphong.com
https://sonbau.com
https://trangphucsenviet.com
https://vinalighting.vn/

One necklace, I remember, had the kanji for “road” on it – although the poor owner had been told it meant love. I guess her love hit the road and didn’t come back no more, no more, no more, no more….

As Tian Tang puts it in the Post:

“People ask, ‘I got the tattoo, can you tell me what this means? And I’m like, ‘Why didn’t you do this before you got that tattoo?'”

Yes, you would think that would be the obvious thing to do – especially if you are getting something permanent like a kanji tattoo. So how can you make sure you don’t end up a national laughingstock?

First of all, make sure you know something about the Japanese language. Check out the copious information at sites like japanese.about.com and in five minutes you will know more about kanji, hiragana and katakana than most of the people already walking around with it tattooed into their skin.

Next, remember that there is often no such thing as an exact translation. Basic nouns are one thing – a table is a table is a table, after all. But abstract concepts, like Semper Fidelis (the motto of the US Marine Corps), can be notoriously difficult to translate well.