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U.S. college student learns the hard way to get your Japanese kanji tattoo checked by an expert

24 Comments
By Casey Baseel, SoraNews24

When choosing a design for a tattoo, most people want something that’s not just cool or beautiful, but meaningful as well. And since you’re going to have the thing forever, an aesthetic that’s already stood the test of time is preferable to some trendy symbol that might feel played out in a few months’ time.

Put all those criteria together, and there’s definitely a certain logic to people choosing Japanese kanji characters for their tattoos, even if they themselves don’t speak the language. However, there’s a danger to having people put words on your body without a sufficient background in the language, since what they actually mean might not match up with the message you’re trying to send.

For example, Japanese Twitter user @ToraiKun spent part of his student days studying at a university in the U.S. One day a Caucasian classmate was showing him her kanji tattoo, and @ToraiKun was startled to see that the character she’d chosen was this.

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Apparently she wanted to double-check that it meant what she thought it did, so she asked @ToraiKun if he could translate it for her, and he easily could, because it’s a pretty simple translation. It means “evil.”

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Now, that tattoo might make sense if @ToraiKun’s classmate had been going through a goth phase or experimenting with other forms of edgy self-impression. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, and she’d had innocent intentions…literally. “They told me it meant ‘innocent!’” the crestfallen woman said.

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Evil, being the active form of malic, is pretty much on the opposite end of the spectrum from innocence, so how did the woman’s tattoo end up being so far off the mark? “There were three characters, and I picked the coolest-looking one,” she explained, and that’s when it clicked that what she’d really wanted was this.

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Pronounced mujaki, those three characters do mean “innocent” or “innocence” (the borderline between adjectives and nouns is sometimes a little hazy in Japanese). It sounds like the woman came across them in a booklet of sample tattoo designs, or maybe ran an English-to-Japanese Google search for “innocent,” and saw them explained like this.

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Apparently the woman thought all three of those kanji meant “innocent” and picked out the one she liked the best. Here’s the problem, though: “Innocent” is what those three characters mean collectively, not by themselves. When you break them down into their individual meanings, they become very different. 無/mu means “no,” 邪/ja means “evil,” and 気/ki means “spirit.” Put them all together, and you get “absent of evil emotion,” i.e. “innocent,” but isolate the middle one, and you’ve just got “evil.”

Ironically, though this is a clear case of a cross-cultural mix-up, the etymology of the Japanese mujaki and English “innocent” are actually pretty similar. “Innocent” comes from attaching the “in-“ prefix, which means “not” (like in “incomplete”) to “nocere,” the Latin verb for “to hurt/harm,” making the root meaning of “innocent” essentially “not [intending to] cause harm.”

While it’s possible someone played a trick on the tattooed girl, it’s also possible that the whole thing was a, well, innocent mistake, since apparently at one point she really did have the correct full set of all three kanji in front of her. As for why the tattoo artist didn’t warn her, tattoo artists are artists, not linguists, and hers may not have had any greater understanding of the Japanese language than the woman herself did, especially if she’d found/picked out the kanji before coming into the studio and came with a picture of it and said, “Give me that.”

The whole situation is yet another reminder that if you’re thinking of getting a kanji tattoo, discussing what you really want, including the context, with a Japanese-language expert you can trust is a very good idea. The silver lining is that if the woman wants to, she can still get the missing 無 and 気 kanji tattooed on either side of 邪, provided it’s on a part of her body where there’s enough space. That still leaves the issue that many Japanese people are more likely to associate the word mujaki with child-like straightforwardness than elegant purity, but that’s still better than a straight-up mark of evil.

Source: Twitter/@ToraiKun via Jin

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© SoraNews24

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24 Comments
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So did the girl get the tattoo removed? Or did she just decide to accept her fate and go over to the Dark Side?

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Not a big fan of tattoos in general. But while I would se an "innocent" tattoo as another unneeded smudge on the skin, an "evil" tattoo would be intriguing and give her an air of mystery and desirability. As long as she keeps this actual story from getting out, that is.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Westerner gets kanji tattoo that says something different than what he wanted.

れモ山ち 丹匕 モㄥモ∨モれ

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I like Hello Kitty Tattoos

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I think she lucked out. "Evil" would be cool to have on your arm.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I still most remember the case of that one main movie character, a red-haired girl accompanying the hero in the well known action movie Transporter3, who had the kanji 安 tattooed and proudly showed it into all camera lenses throughout the whole movie. It means ‘cheap’…and maybe it fits. lol

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Simple, just go back and add the other 2 kanjis and she will be Innocent.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

Sure @Mark 9:04am depends on where the center kanji was inked.

*- Mark 9:04am: “Simple, just go back and add the other 2 kanjis and she will be Innocent.”*

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Speaking of “Simple”, cant 無邪気 also be translated as “*simple***-mindedness?**

1 ( +1 / -0 )

And, hopefully it all translates the same in Chinese? Perhaps we should wait for the resident kanji experts and veteran gatekeepers of “all things Japan” to weigh in first?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

SpeedToday  08:20 am JST

I think she lucked out. "Evil" would be cool to have on your arm.

It was a trend in the late 80s to wear shirts stating that you were 'Evil wicked mean and nasty'.

snowymountainhellToday  09:22 am JST

Speaking of “Simple”, cant 無邪気 also be translated as “*simple****-mindedness***” ?

There was a TV ad where this guy was going to get his GF's name tatooed on his arm but he didn't have all the cash in hand. So instead of his sweetheart's name 'Donna' spelled in full he sported the name 'Don' on his right shoulder.

snowymountainhellToday  09:24 am JST

And, hopefully it all translates the same in Chinese? Perhaps we should wait for the resident kanji experts and veteran gatekeepers of “all things Japan” to weigh in first?

And in the mid 00's there was also a vogue to have two or three Chinese characters inked inside the elbow bend. You could ask them what it meant, oh yeah. Uh-huh. And these dweebs didn't know a word of Chinese. Of course unlike Japanese, Chinese does have obscene words. LOL. Simple minded indeed.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I bet Ariana Grande and her charcoal grills can sympathize with this girl.

For students of higher level, 邪 means evil when pronounced as yokoshima (source: wiktionary). The basic meanings of the character are wicked, injustice, wrong.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Never mind about tattoo.

Just eschew from playing with Japanese Kanji that sometimes carry with them other deep subtle meanings as in ancient Chinese characters.

The word in the article does not simply mean evil, it carries a connotation of something unnatural that is not to be welcome by some people in some societies, but not by necessarily others in other societies..

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Come on folk - help the lady. There are a few alternatives to adding two extra tattoos. For example 正邪 right and wrong, 邪恋 illicit love, 風邪 a cold. Just one more kanji might fit. I would like to see a few more- give a hand here.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Kanji are not Japanese, they are Chinese characters, Japan imported them just a few centuries before the west did.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Give it up already Seth lol

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I say leave it as is, if it doesnt suit her now it will likely soon enough!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Stick with T-shirts. People sometimes put inappropriate Kanji on them, too, but then you can regift to that special someone.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Why'd you get that tattoo?

It's not a tattoo, I was born with it.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Some tattoos are fine art. The full back/body ones in Japan (ironically) can be amongst the very best. If you are lucky enough to get the opportunity to see one, it is a privilege and well worth it.

Some are deeply personal. A memorial of a lost child.

Most of the rest are a bad idea. One of many bad ideas common to youth. Such things used to be blamed on the introduction of comprehensive education, foreign influences, weed, rock and roll, the pill, or the decline of civilisation. Now typically blamed on Facebook or TikTok.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Pukey2Oct. 16  11:26 am JST

I bet Ariana Grande and her charcoal grills can sympathize with this girl.

For students of higher level, 邪 means evil when pronounced as yokoshima (source: wiktionary). The basic meanings of the character are wicked, injustice, wrong.

The thing is, since so many people who get these kind of tattoos don't know Japanese, Chinese, korean or Thai (or any language outside of English) that can lead to the inker artist labelling you with a laughingstock sign that will say in one way or another 'I am a dumb butt'.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

She can just add the other characters and regain innocence.

A simple solution.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If there's no room to add the other two Kanji, you could always have an line or "X" tattooed over it, or something along that effect. I'm sure a creative tattoo artist could come up with something.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Make me think of the clothing brand superdry. Have a look at their “google translated” name hahah.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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