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!
from: Sarah C.
date: Wed, Aug 25, 2010 at 5:53 AM
subject: My husband's old tattoo!

I stumbled across your blog and have had a great time reading it!!

My husband is an unfortunate teenage tattoo victim. He very proudly displays this tattoo on his shoulder blade which he swears means "dragon". However I've looked up the character for dragon and it is nothing like his tattoo!

Does his tattoo have any meaning or is it an attack of gibberish?

Thank you!



represents the fifth zodiac year which happens to be "the year of dragon", not the actual dragon. However the tattooed character has an unnecessary extra bit at left upper corner.

Dragon is typically (or 龙) in Chinese, and in Japanese.
from: Maija M.
date: Tue, Aug 24, 2010 at 11:21 AM
subject: A promise to my Mom


I got this tattoo to honor my Mom after she died from early onset Alzheimer's. At the time, I went back to school while I took care of her and got a degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The location has a special meaning to me and the characters were written for me by one of my teachers.

The two characters are supposed to read "Ma Carol" and the squired symbol then makes it Ma Ma and Carol Carol (my Mom's name and my middle name). Also, I believe the characters can be read as "path" and "promise" as in I promised to help care for others on my new path as a healer.

However, I'm embarrassed to say I've forgotten which character is which and also want to find about about other possible interpretations.

Thanks in advance,

Maija M.

Ma Carol 2 Tattoo

Top character is correct for "mother".

However tattooed character is not , which means "road / path".
from: Julia P.
date: Mon, Aug 23, 2010 at 3:49 AM
subject: tatoo

Hello, Tian!

I like your site and my tatoo :))

But could you say me what it mean?

Thank you!

Julia P.


Hello Julia!

I don't know what your tattoo means.

You are welcome!

from: Travis L.
date: Tue, Aug 17, 2010 at 3:33 PM
subject: 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 do you say?



indeed means "greens, vegetable, food dish".

Bobby needs to lay off smoking oregano, the gateway drug to catnip.
from: marisa r.
date: Thu, Aug 19, 2010 at 7:24 AM
subject: My husbands Tattoo

My husband being the hero that he is when stationed over in Bahrain (where tattoo's are illegal) went with some friends drunk to a guys HOUSE!!!! And my husband looked through a book, found the symbol for "strength" and got it.

Thanks so much


Photo on 2010-08-19 at 09.51

First of all, the character is mirrored.

If it is be read as one single character , it means "to bring up, to raise".

If they are two characters, and , which means "small livestock or young animal".
from: Joe I.
to: Tian
date: Tue, Aug 17, 2010 at 7:20 PM
subject: Tattoo Translation Question

I found your website about a week ago and was wondering if you could translate what this says, the picture comes from a good friend. There are two different things, with the top character being separate from the other ones. I'm not sure what the top one is supposed to mean, and I'm pretty sure the bottom one is supposed to be her name. After reading through your website though I learned that there really isn't a way to translate specific characters, like for names so I'm interested in what the heck it actually is.

It might be in Japanese, I forget what she had told me.



Top character is Japanese-specific, meaning "ice". Second character means "add".

"Smirnoff ice"?
from: Dana H.
date: Tue, Aug 17, 2010 at 5:51 AM
subject: Tattoo Question

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 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?


means "calamity, disaster, catastrophe", and definitely not "beauty", which is .
from: Clarity S.
date: Mon, Aug 16, 2010 at 9:26 AM
subject: Please tell me this means "chaos"

I love your blog!

Please tell me this means "chaos"!


means "barracks, camp, station". In I-Ching (or Yi Jing), it was used to represent "sprouting". None of these uses meant "Chaos", which is 混沌 in Chinese and カオス in Japanese.
from: Cher S.
date: Sun, Aug 15, 2010 at 2:17 PM
subject: Translation request


I had this tattoo done over 12 years ago when I served in the U.S. Navy. To be completely honest, I do not remember much about that night. Can you work your magic and decipher my tattoo?

Thank you,

Cher S.


Top character looks like with an extra dot, which means "to cut down", and is correct for "fortune".
from: Jamie D.
date: Sun, Aug 15, 2010 at 1:43 PM
subject: 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????


by itself alone means "rice".
from: Paul J.
date: Sun, Aug 15, 2010 at 5:49 AM
subject: another Hanzi Smatter

Hi Tian,

Ah yes, another victim gets a tattoo when they were a drunk teenager almost 16 years ago -- has a feeling it doesn't mean what they think it does.

Of course it means "STRENGTH", right??

Thanks! Your blog is hilarious, without trying to be.

Dr. P

ps, I can't wait to hear what it really means.


means "to foster / to bear", not "strength".
from: W.J. H.
date: Sun, Aug 15, 2010 at 11:43 AM
subject: Please Translate Ex-Boyfriend's Tattoo

My ex seems to think that his tattoo means "Hell's Warrior". The fella isn't the brightest crayon in the box and I would honestly be very surprised if he managed to get an accurately translated kanji tattoo in rural Idaho. Care to clarify it's meaning?


Top two character 地獄 does mean "hell", however by itself alone does not mean "warrior".
from: Alex Y.
to: ""
date: Sun, Aug 15, 2010 at 9:44 AM
subject: Friend's tattoo

Wondering if you could translate this. My friend thinks it says something like, "to learn as much as possible."




means "empty, hollow, bare, deserted".
from: Jen W.
date: Thu, Aug 12, 2010 at 10:28 PM
subject: To Fight is to Suffer?

My neighbor directed me to your site after I mentioned to her that my husband had 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.

PS- He has said before that the dragon and the kanji are not related, and that they were drawn up at different times.

I would really appreciate your help.

-Jen W.


typically means "exhausted/poor".
from: vicki
to: ""
date: Mon, Aug 9, 2010 at 10:52 AM
subject: please help me translate my tattoo

so, i got a tattoo on the back of my neck on my 18th birthday and was told it would be the kinji symbol for "princess".

through recent research via internet, all i can find is "princess" being 2 symbols not one. can you ease my mind and hopefully let me know this means princess? if not, i would love to know what it means and which language is actually on my neck.

thank-you in advance!!

2010-08-09 01.16.31

by itself alone means "palace", not quite princess.
from: Brian L.
date: Thu, Aug 5, 2010 at 3:36 PM
subject: Tattoo

Hi there,

I apologize for emailing you out of the blue but I’m hoping you can help me.

Many years ago I got a tattoo that was done by an artist who was allegedly Japanese and claimed could read Japanese. Today I now teach Japanese martial arts and I’m embarrassed to say that my tattoo doesn’t mean what it was supposed to. Can you help me translate this?

I’d greatly appreciate the help.




means "lonely" & means "reality", however the compound phrase 寂実 does not exist.
from: Crystal F.
date: Fri, Aug 6, 2010 at 7:53 PM
subject: wisdom and transience?


I stumbled across your blog, and through my reading, I remembered 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?

Thanks, Crystal


How does (cherry) relate to "transience"?


Ok, Here's a great piece... Juan doing a Bob Marley tribute piece. You will find Bob in it, of course, his Les Paul Junior with a single cut away, a Lion statue... Bob's house... excellent piece. Even Juan is all smiles about it! The guy getting the tattoo was flying to the Carribean during hurricane Katrina! F*ck that!!! Turbulence on a normal flight is one thing, but going from one island to another in a propeller plane during a hurricane sounds about as fun as sliding down a razor blade on your b*lls and landing in a pool of alcohol... anyway, he said it was that trip that turned him on to reggae music.

That was a great day, the conversations at the shop are the best. You can really learn a lot. Because of the open floor plan, everyone has a chance to join in the conversations. There are so many knowledgeable people that come into the shop that you can learn everything from facts to how to do repairs on cars, where to find parts, access services like machining, computer services, hair cuts, where to get fancy shoes... you name it.

The week before, I was in Mexico at tattoo convention. Here's a picture of the plane entering Mexican air space.

This is the first day, in the first 20 minutes of the convention. The place got real full. Conventions in Mexico are the best. It's not a huge money maker but the experience is the greatest. You can't put a price on it, especially in a city as huge as Mexico City!!!

There is some real talent there. Not just in Mexico City but the whole country! Look at this tattoo. The guy who did it, uses our machines. The smoothness of the shading and solidness of the color says it all.

Mexico is known for it's black and grey artists. These 2 pieces (above and below) were done by Kique Sanx from Chilpancingo in the state of Guerrero.

I always use black and grey as a reference as to the artist's ability. The techniques needed to do these realistic images is not only a question of eye / hand coordination, but a question of understanding the techniques needed to make your machine, needles and diluted ink achieve this. Light even shades are the hardest to do. Especially if the areas are huge!

Skin type plays a big role in this as well. There are some types of skin that are very receptive to the faintest shades of diluted greys, others are not so lucky. As you can see from these tattoos, there are rarely outlines, the edges are implied with different grey shades and hard edges. You can see this in the noses, shapes of the eye sockets, eye lids and so on. None of the facial features ever gets outlines, surprising to some of you, not even the eyes!! If you ever look in the mirror, there is a shelf that the eyelashes grow out of. That is defined by shades, not lines...

It takes a real "eye" to spot this. There are tons of artists who attempt portrait work and fail miserably because they tattoo what they "think" it looks like and NOT what they see...

Just a little information for you to chew on...

from: Jeff L.
date: Fri, Jul 30, 2010 at 4:44 AM
subject: My silly-ass tattoo

Hi Tian!

Very nice blog you have here. I was wondering if you could help me re-translate (hopefully correctly this time) my first ever tattoo!! (surprise!) The top should read "to excel", the inside should read "strength", the outside "to persevere", and the bottom "to find happiness".



In Japanese, 我慢 means "to persevere" or "patience, endurance, perseverance." However, it means "I am slow" in Chinese.
芽出度い, which can mean "happy" but can also colloquially mean "pregnant" or "crazy."
from: Carla M.
date: Fri, Jul 30, 2010 at 1:20 PM
subject: Could u help me with my tattoo?


I have a chinese tattoo and I'm probably the 200000th person who claims your help to know if I'm as stupid as all people who trust their tattoo artist... I had believed during 10 years that my tattoo means an "C" a "K" and an "S"...I'm right?


junio'10 (17)

Carla is another person with gibberish faux Chinese tattooed on her back.
from: Lindsey O.
date: Sat, Jul 31, 2010 at 11:51 AM
subject: tattoo

One of my exes has several tattoos that are either hanzi or kanji, though I am not sure which. I had always wondered if they actually mean what he believes them to, and was able to find a couple of pictures that had two of them (though, unfortunately I couldn't find any of the other one/ones). Those attached are supposed to say "way of the tiger" and "way of the dragon."


Granted these were not high resolution photographs, however 道大虎 and 道大龍 are not exactly "way of the tiger" and "way of the dragon".
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