Japanese inspired kanji tattoos are one of the most popular styles of tattoos according to a recent tattoo survey. Most people who think about getting a kanji tattoo are under the mistaken belief that you can translate Japanese symbols directly from English into kanji. This lack of awareness hasn’t stopped an increasing number of people from getting Japanese characters tattooed onto their bodies and sometimes regretting it after they discover that their kanji doesn’t mean what they thought it did.
Most Japanese tattoos found on tattoo shop walls – and on most people’s skin – are printed in a bland, everyday variety of type. The written Japanese and Chinese languages are composed not of individual letters but of ideographs or pictographs, which represent an idea or thing. Some characters consist of more than 30 strokes.
The two languages share some of the same pictographs, for instance those meaning beauty, love, woman, strength and happiness. Such concepts are the most commonly requested. Things borrowed from other cultures can come to have a deeper, more personal meaning. The visual force of the Chinese and Japanese characters is quite dramatic and has a beauty of its own.
In business since 1949, tattoo artist Lyle Tuttle counts Janis Joplin, Peter Fonda, Joan Baez and “all the members of the Allman Brothers” among his customers. He owned the San Francisco Tattoo Museum until the 1989 earthquake destroyed his building.
Famous tattoo artist Lyle Tuttle speaking about traditional Japanese kanji tattoos, which he says are elaborate, multi-coloured pictures that tell a story and can cover a person’s body turns away requests to write specific things in kanji. Tuttle instead suggests customers talk to native speakers before getting a kanji done.
The popularity of kanjis in the West hasn’t impressed many of those who speak or read Japanese or Chinese fluently. Kanjis may look cool to non Japanese or Chinese speakers but don’t always make sense to native speakers. A true Japanese tattoo has meaning.
Kanjis are NOT really a traditional Japanese tattoo BUT more a style of tattoo. If you are getting a kanji be sure that what you are getting done is something that means a lot to you and is translated correctly.
Don’t make the embarrassing mistake thousands of others have!