The Asian character tattoos in the list we created below all have one thing in common: their real meaning dramatically differs from what the people who were inked initially believed or wanted, and in some cases, the actual meanings of the characters are hilarious.
These examples of Asian character tattoos gone horribly wrong were originally published on the blog, Hanzi Smatter and the images and translations were republished here with permission.
Here are 20 of our favorite tattoos and their surprisingly funny translations:
1. “So my boyfriend got this tattoo the other day and was told it meant ‘loyalty’ in japanese kanji and just so happens my friend has ‘loyalty’ also in japanese kanji and they dont look anything alike please helppppp me asap.”
What these characters actually mean: 麺 [めん] noodles
2. “I got these back in 99… It was supposed to mean ‘Faith, Passion, Discipline’…. it came to my surprise that my chinese friend was unable to read the second one back the day… Now I joke around and say it means ‘impossible to read'”
3. “[Below] is my sister’s new tattoo, it is supposed to be both of her daughters initials (ESO and EGO in English). But what are we really looking at?”
4. “What does this mean? My friend asked me to find out what she’s had tattooed on her shoulder since her teens. Can you translate it or identify it as junk?”
What these characters actually mean: 大過 [たいか] serious error; gross mistake
5. “No idea what I even had done 15 years ago. Honestly no clue any help? I think was meant to be my initials. J A M.”
What these characters actually mean: There is no meaning; this is gibberish
6. “Hello, My boyfriend got this tattoo a while ago, he initially thought it meant “freedom”. After a trip overseas we had a strange interaction with a tourist after he saw it- but he was unable to tell us what it meant.. Are unable to help us?!”
What these characters actually mean: 無料 [むりょう] free; no charge. It does not have same meaning as “freedom”.
7. “My girlfriend has this tattoo and she thinks it says ‘friendship’. can you confirm this thank you…”
What these characters actually mean: 醜: bad looking; shame; ugly; unclean
8. “My brother recently got a tattoo that he believe translates to “fast and furious.”Is this the case at all?”
9. “I got this tattoo 17 years ago in NYC. Tattoos were not totally legal in the city yet and I was underage. Internet was not in full swing either. The tattoos were supposed to have read, “Strength and Courage.” I’m sure they don’t. LoL! If you could tell me what the characters mean (if anything), I would appreciate it.”
10. “I got a tattoo a few years back saw the image in a shop alongside a few others, and decided to get it. It is supposed to be Outlaw, though someone I used to game online with from China told me it actually directly translates to Out of the Law. I can live with that if that is true. Though now that it is time to get my tattoos touched up due to fading, I want to double check before I get a new coat of ink put on it. Here is the attached image from when it was still freshly done.”
What these characters actually mean: 躲藏 means “[in] hiding” and 犯 is “criminal”. However the translation of 躲藏犯 is equivalent of “snitch” or “rat”. It is associated with someone has betrayed his duty and honor to exchange for freedom but in a life of hiding. Definitely not glamorous in either law enforcement or crime syndicates’ eyes.
What these characters actually mean: “golden pig”; the character for pig, 豬, is upside down
12. “I have a friend from work who has a tattoo on his arm. He said it’s written in Chinese and it says something like – ‘there’s nothing like mom’.
What these characters actually mean: The first character does not exist in written Chinese. However, there is one character 冇 that only exists in written Cantonese, which means “not have”. Of course, that is not what has been tattooed here. This tattoo does not mean “there is nothing like mom”, rather “not have the likeness of my mother”.
13. “My friend bobby got this dumb tattoo. A resident Japanese says it means “Green Vegetable”, so we have been laughing at bobby. We could never get him to say. One theory is “weed”, slang for marijuana.”
What these characters actually mean: 菜 indeed means “greens, vegetable, food dish”
14. “A girl I know from high school recently got this tattoo on her arm. She says it means ‘beautiful’, but a friend of mine says that isn’t so, and that 美 is the Chinese character for beauty. The top part even looks like a series of triangle brackets, not like any Chinese character. So what does this really mean?”
15. “My tattoo artist is talented but doesn’t listen. So…I was told this was the symbol for ‘chi’ – a giggling oriental girl told me it means ‘rice’ (which I actually find hilarious.) Any other meaning????”
What these characters actually mean: 米 by itself alone means “rice”
16. “My husband has a kanji tattoo. He tells everyone that it is supposed to mean something along the lines of “to fight is to suffer”, and then it later came out that he had gotten the tattoo for his ex-fiancée soon after they split up (before we ever met). I would be VERY interested to know what it translates to, because he says that he researched it really well before he was inked.”
What these characters actually mean: 窮 typically means “exhausted/poor”
17. “My friend’s new tattoo. So, he claims the crane represents wisdom, and the characters mean “transience,” (He posted the photo on Facebook, and in reply to a friend’s comment asking what the characters meant, he said, “In this case it means transience.”) Additionally, he received his new branding at the *famous* Ed Hardy’s Tattoo City SF (Yes, the Ed Hardy.) So, is this correct?”
What these characters actually mean: 桜 (cherry)
18. “I did them myself late one night a couple years back while apprenticing at a tattoo parlor.”
19. “Hey, i looking for years what my tattoo mean but nobody could tell me. I hope you can translate my tattoo. Please….. It is very important for me”
What these characters actually mean: 巟 a watery waste; to reach
20. “The symbols come from the Five Phase (constructive/destructive) Cycle of Traditional Chinese Medicine (clockwsise from top: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water). They show growth and break down ie. how everything is connected. The root system now extends down to my left foot ending in the double koru”
What these characters actually mean: The character is actually the Japanese katakana ホ(ho) not 木 (ki, tree). The mistaken use of ‘ho’ is quite unfortunate considering the woman as both subject and canvas. And yes, the hip-hop slang meaning of ‘ho’ (whore) is known in Japan and written with the same character.
This shows that it’s always a good idea to find someone you can trust, who can fluently read and write whichever language you’d like to tattoo on your body, to double check the characters before you commit!
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