Getting a tattoo in a language that you don't understand is rarely a good idea. Hell, even tattoos in people's native tongues are often hilariously misspelled or misinterpreted.
Tattoos written in Hanzi and Kanji (the Chinese and Japanese character sets) became popular in the west in the late 1980's, although there was a niche among sailors who visited the Far East for many years prior. Western tattoo artists usually copy a character from a template, something that is often unreliable and can easily lead to context errors if a direct translation is attempted. For example, in 2001, Britney Spears got a Chinese tattoo inked on her bikini line. She believed that the tattoo meant 'mysterious' but later on, it is found that this tattoo means 'strange.' Combining the characters to form a phrase or idiom can lead to even worse disasters, as meanings can change completely and you end up with something like "demon bird moth balls" forever inked on your skin.
So you have to ask yourself then – why do people still do it? After all, you are relying on others to get the meaning right, and it can come across as weird or even offensive to Chinese or Japanese people who feel that you might be trivializing or insulting their ancient cultures. So the best advice is – don't. Unless you have done scrupulous research and are fully aware and accepting of the cultural connotations!
Scroll down to see some funny and cringeworthy examples of people getting it completely wrong for yourself, and let us know your thoughts in the comments!
Late to party, saw a Canadian guy and asked him what he had asked the tattoo artist ”I asked him for some bad words, something really bad”. It’s said “economic recession”
40+ year old bald white guy with Chinese characters that translated as “I’m a cute little princess” on the length of his forearm.
Had a good laugh the rest of that day.
My buddy has "illiterate foreigner" in traditional Chinese characters. It's dope
I saw this guy with Japanese characters that translated to “Beep Beep Lettuce”
I was TDY in Japan for 90 days, and I didn't know very much Japanese at all, but the wife of a guy I worked with was fluent, and at a small command function she pointed out this complete asshat of a guy at the detachment I was with whose back tat read "child changing station". He told everyone it was something like "strength, loyalty, determination".
My wife is Chinese and the best one she has personally seen was "fat dumb American" on a guys leg.
I knew a girl at university who had some Chinese characters down her arm.
Came in one hot summer day and I finally saw the whole thing.
It said; Emergency exit. Do not block.
Wanted a tattoo in Chinese that said "I am a vegetarian," got a tattoo that said "I am made of vegetables."
I probably shouldn’t be saying this as the person who had this done to them is my best friend but...sh!t...here we go again... My best friend who we’ll call Sarah got a tattoo when she was 16 (where I live, you’re supposed to be 18) her dad passed away about 3 years ago and she wanted to get a tattoo on her wrist to remember him...instead of getting his name which would’ve been easier...she decided she wanted to get “dad” in Japanese...it’s been 2 years since then and I still haven’t told her that it says “turtle” I know that she’ll hate herself if she finds out and to be 100% honest...I kinda like it...I was actually thinking of getting it on my wrist too...my dad passed away when I was only 11 so she’d think I got a tattoo saying dad as well but I’d actually just be getting a pretty hilarious tattoo that I kinda love... I just want to add...if I suddenly go missing...blame it on my best friend
Buddy of mine got a tattoo with his friends. He wanted it to say something like "honor" or "loyalty" or some dumb s**t, but it actually says "free eggroll with combo purchase"
I once saw this middle aged dude wearing "金魚佬" on his shoulder (the rough literary translation is "Goldfish Man"), which in cantonese means a sleazy older man who creeps on younger girls/children. Basically a pedo. Wonder under what circumstances he got that inked...
I have 'Monkey' on my wrist because that's my Chinese zodiac. I know it's accurate because a Chinese guy asked me if I knew what it meant, and I'm sure he thought I would say 'faith' or 'love' or something, so when I said 'monkey' he looked so relieved. His friend was like 'you have GOT to stop doing that!'
my friend got "translator server error" tattooed on his arm. needless to say he wasn't very happy after i told him
My boyfriend got tattooed before we met and he meant to get warrior(士) tattooed on him, but the lines are wrong so it really means dirt (土). The bottom line is supposed to be shorter than the top line. His nickname in my family is now doro-chan which is basically a cute way of saying dirt boy.
I can read Chinese and I met a guy who wanted to get a tattoo that said "Hope" so i guess they looked it up in the dictionary and tattooed the first 2 characters after "hope" which were "名子“
which says "noun"
This guy i saw had "circumcised Squirrel" on his arm in chinese
Lemon water pork dumplings along the spine
He thought it said “Love my grandson”. It translated to something like “I love fat boys”. I think it was a google translate failure of epic proportions
Man flexed his tattoo to me in a supermarket claiming it said 'wisdom'. It meant 'meat'.
I didn’t see it, but I went with a friend to get a piercing, and I heard a guy say, I don’t like the way that looks, can you change this line and make the ends do this. The tattoo artist said, “Yea, but that changes the word, you might be going from brave to gay woman for all I know. You can’t change kanji symbols and still have it mean the same thing.”
I dont speak Chinese but back in college I knew a guy who was one of those douchey guys who likes to brag about how cultured they are and stuff when really they're just an a**hole. He came back from China with some characters tattooed on him. My friend next to me (who had real bad social anxiety so would never speak in public to non-friends normally) burst out laughing. Douche-guy got kinda annoyed and said "It says Strength, Wisdom, Passion" or some other weird bs like that. My friend then reached into his bag, pulled out his phone, opened up one of those AR translators, pointed it at the guy's tattoo, and through the magic of AR, revealed it actually said "chicken with noodles". My friend then said that one of his mates in China told him that a lot of Asian tattooists will often deliberately f**k up tattoos and stuff because they get really annoyed at those douchey people coming over asking for random words to be tattooed onto them.
so this one wrestler/boxer/fighter whatever nicknamed himself the wind of pain and decided to get a Chinese tattoo based on that, so instead of using something bad ass like 痛苦之风（wind of pain)but he ended up with 痛风 which means metabolic arthritis. Yeah good luck with that
I have my Chinese zodiac in Chinese letters on my arm. I worked with a guy who was from China and spoke almost no English. When he saw it his eyes lit up, pointed at my arm and said "hahaha cock!". I'm the year of the rooster...
Not my story but a friend of mine.
She had a classmate in college with a kanji tattoo, confused she asked her what it meant.
Turns out it actually said “pig princess”
A friend of mine once told me he saw a guy with something like ‘I don’t speak this language’ tattooed on his arm.
I once had a roommate placed with me in the apartment our company ran for us here in Japan. He was loud, obnoxious, and I generally didn't get on well with him. But, you try to get along, so we'd go to the izakaya up the street from time to time with other friends to drink and have a good time. The owners were this wonderful old Japanese couple who loved having all these weird gaijin come and entertain the locals.
Anyway, somehow we get talking about tattoos and the roommate is showing his off. He then says that he got the kanji for "friendship" (友) and "peace" (和) tattooed on his back and lifts his shirt to show everyone. There's a bit of silence, broken by someone asking, "Who's Tomokazu?"
What Roommate didn't know, of course, was that those two kanji in that order was a man's name.
He reacted well, though, taking a beat and then announcing, "I'M TOMOKAZU!" which became a running joke while he was there.
A guy I saw in the streets had the hiragana "Unko" tatooed on his shoulder.
"Unko" meaning a turd in japanese...
My friend got a tattoo that said "veni vidi vici" in chinese, well so he thought. The tattoo acutally said "three small dishes"