It is no secret that many people love to get Japanese tattoos of kanji on their bodies in America. This is often true for Chinese lettering as well. The beautiful Eastern symbols can often represent a complex idea in a single character. But if you think that Japanese people are doing the same, think again. Tattoos are a vastly different part of Japanese culture than they are in Western cultures.
In fact, you cannot even enter public bathhouses, 温泉 (onsen) if you have a tattoo bigger than a band-aid!
While nowadays some young Japanese people are starting to get tattoos, traditional tattoos known as 入れ墨 (irezumi) were once illegal and were used to display your status as a criminal. Punishment by tattoo is known as 墨刑 (bokkei). Today, many people still associate tattoos with members of the Japanese mafia, the yakuza. While tattoos were decriminalized in 1948, they are still considered inappropriate by many Japanese people. You may even lose your job if you get one! Because of this, it is not as “cool” to get a tattoo as it is in many Western countries. That being said, Western culture has slowly begun to influence a small part of the population.
In Western cultures, of course, tattoos are becoming more and more commonplace, though are still against the mainstream. Getting Japanese lettering is still one of the most common tattoos around. If you do want to get a kanji tattoo, remember to do your research! Asking Google translate does NOT count! Ask a native Japanese speaker what it means and make sure it’s someone you trust. If you ask the wrong person they may have you walking around with a very silly or meaningless word tattooed on your skin FOREVER! Have you ever seen someone with a Japanese tattoo and noticed it made no sense? Can you imagine if Japanese people were walking around with words like “chair” or “banana” tattooed in English on their arms? The photos below are some of the worst Japanese tattoos out there. Learn Japanese kanji before you get a Japanese tattoo! Check them and see if you can properly identify the kanji and what it really means. When you give up, go ahead and find the answers at the bottom of the page!
Give up? Here are the answers!
2. “bad girl”
3. “sexual act”
5. “made in Japan”
6. “guardian of a minor”
All images are courtesy of Naver Japan