Chinese characters and Japanese kanji are certainly aesthetically impressive. They’ve got an air of mystery about them. And they seem to imply hidden meanings and profound wisdom. But we all know that the Universe likes irony and has a wicked sense of humor. If you try to get a tattoo in a language you don’t know, you’re practically begging for trouble. And we’ve got the evidence.
We’re featuring a whole bunch of entertaining stories from the r/AskReddit online community about people who know Chinese or Japanese sharing the dumbest things they’ve seen tattooed. Scroll down for the most hilarious exotic tattoo fail stories and definitive proof that: a) you’ve got to do at least some basic research before getting inked; and b) don’t be obnoxious when dealing with your tattoo artist. Otherwise, you might end up with the character for ‘fish’ instead of something badass like ‘poison.’ Or ‘illiterate foreigner’ which (we’re not gonna lie) is so bad it’s good.
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Have you ever seen any foreign language ink fails with your own two eyes, dear Pandas? Maybe you’ve got a tattoo that you regret getting? We can’t wait to hear what you have to say, so make sure to drop on by the comment section. Oh, and if you loved this list and haven’t had enough, we’ve got you covered—check out Bored Panda’s earlier article about idiotic kanji tattoos right here.
Bored Panda got in touch with David McKinlay, the owner of the Archangel 1608 Tattoo Studio in Glasgow, for a chat about tattoos in foreign languages. Scroll down for our exclusive interview with him.
My buddy has “illiterate foreigner” in traditional Chinese characters. It’s dope.
David, the owner of the Scotland-based Archangel 1608 Tattoo Studio, shared a bit about how he and other tattoo artists working there tackle situations where the client might want to get inked with Chinese characters or Japanese kanji. Good communication helps avoid trouble further down the line.
“We always ask the client where they got their translation/symbol from, and make sure they’re 100% happy with it. We also explain that there’s a chance it might not mean what they think. We go through this two or three times before actually tattooing,” he explained to Bored Panda that it’s a thorough process and that they double- and triple-check.
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.
I knowingly got Pork Fried Rice tattooed on my bicep.
I get so much free pork fried rice at chinese places now because the employees think its so funny.
Bored Panda was curious as to why people are interested in getting Chinese and Japanese characters inked on their bodies. “People like getting these symbols as it can be discreet, and maybe a bit mysterious,” David explained to us.
“If done well, they can be a personal and meaningful tattoo. These cultures are generally seen as fashionable and cool, particularly in terms of tattoo styles. The oriental symbols were super popular back in the ’90s and early 2000s,” he said that they aren’t as popular now anymore.
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.
Gets a tattoo in google translate Japanese thinking it says “fear no one” but it really means “I fear everyone”
Wanted a tattoo in Chinese that said “I am a vegetarian,” got a tattoo that said “I am made of vegetables.”
If someone really regrets their tattoos or learns that what they thought was a totally cool string of characters actually means something thoroughly silly, they can always cover the tattoo up or remove it via laser.
“Tattoo removal is now by laser only. There are always options to cover up tattoos, but can sometimes mean going bigger than the existing tattoo,” tattoo parlor owner David said.
Bored Panda previously spoke to Japanese language expert Kotryna Kvietkauskaitė who had read tons of stories about people ending up with dumb tattoos or random strings of words. She said that it’s usually the client who’s at fault for the ridiculous results.
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“The person in question might have done something to offend the tattoo artist. Either that or they’re so convinced of their own personal interpretation of what the symbols mean that the tattoo artist feels helpless to ask if the person understands what the tattoo really means,” Kotryna shared her interpretation.
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.
Worked in Japan for a few years, and shortly after moving back to the US, I spotted a fellow working in a comics shop with a tattoo of a kanji. I recognized it right away, but I asked him what it meant just in case I was horribly wrong. He said it was Chinese, that there wasn’t a direct English translation, and it was about inner strength and determination.
My dude, 苺 means “strawberry.”
My wife is Chinese and the best one she has personally seen was “fat dumb American” on a guys leg.
In the expert’s opinion, it’s vital that you find someone you trust who knows the language before heading to the tattoo parlor. That way, you’ll avoid a boatload of trouble.
“Find a friend who knows the language. Let them check the meaning of the words or phrases you want to get tattoos of, whether they mean what you think they mean,” she told Bored Panda.
“Not all tattoo artists in the West know Asian languages and they might not be able to tell you that a particular phrase isn’t correct,” the expert stressed that clients shouldn’t expect every tattoo artist to know every single language out there.
My friend got a tattoo that said “veni vidi vici” in chinese, well so he thought. The tattoo acutally said “three small dishes”
My friend thought he had “Warrior” on his arm, but it turned out to be “Calendar”
I knew a guy who thought he was getting Honor while in the Navy. He was preparing to transfer out to Japan and wanted something to draw Japanese females’ attention. Turns out that one of the guys at the shop had a 17 year old sister he had played for sex, so they gave him the symbol for Yaoi.
Edit for those not in the know: Yaoi means gay.
“Asian languages, especially Chinese and Japanese, work differently than we’re used to. Two words combined together don’t always mean what you think,” Kotryna told us, referring to Ariana Grande’s ‘7 Rings’ tattoo that actually meant ‘Barbeque Grill.” The celebrity tried to fix the tattoo later… though unsuccessfully. The updated version read, ‘Japanese Barbeque Finger.’
The expert in Japanese linguistics explained that everyone’s language journey is unique. How quickly we learn depends on our drive, timetable, and motivation.
“Are we talking about the ability to read fiction in Japanese? Or are we talking about the ability to freely talk with Japanese people not only about everyday things like the weather or your hobbies?” she said different folks have different understandings of what it actually means to ‘know’ Japanese.
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?
I saw this guy with Japanese characters that translated to “Beep Beep Lettuce”
Bunch of the guys who invented YouTube came to Japan way back in the early days (2005 or 2006) and I took them out to dinner. One of them asked me if I could read his Japanese tattoo and I had to apologize for not being able to read Klingon.
“One person might take 5 years until they learn to read Japanese fiction without any problems while another person might take 10 years. In other words, there isn’t a clearly-defined point that can be reached after which a person can confidently state that they know Japanese as well as the average native,” Kotryna pointed out that everyone moves at their own pace.
However, it’s the effort that counts the most. The locals almost always appreciate foreigners doing their best to learn their language and traditions. Respect begets respect.
“In Japan, when a foreigner speaks Japanese, they can often get praise for their language skills, even if they simply introduced themselves which is one of the first things that students learn to do.”
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*****e. 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.
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.
In high school a lot of people would ask me to write on them in Chinese in pen, I’d always write “我不说中文” which means “I don’t speak Chinese”
I was on the subway in NYC and there was a guy who clearly lifted a lot. He was wearing a sleeveless shirt and on his jacked arms in chinese were the words “牛肉麵” or “Beef noodle soup” for everyone to see. Man looked ready to get the rest of his favorite restaurant’s menu tattooed on his body.
Not someone I know, but my uncle told me a story about a guy that was a crystal palace fan who thought he was getting “eagles for life” tattooed on him, but the translation in Chinese was more literal and translated to “I give birth to eagles”
Oooh I love this one! I was once having sex with a guy, about to go down on him when I noticed he had a Chinese tattoo on his inner hip, 凉。I stopped mid-sex, “What do you think your tattoo says.”
“Oh its supposed to mean cool, I know it isn’t right though…”
It actually meant cold to the touch, or disappointing.
Fittingly, the sex was quite disappointing.
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…
Ariane Grande tattooed the words “Barbecue Grill” on her hand.
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
I met a guy in the air port when I came back from living in Tokyo for 2 years who had just visited Japan. He had 2 symbols on his shoulder I noticed that were “off”. I stopped him and asked him what his tattoo said. He said ” It means strong will bro.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him….. his two symbols he picked in order were “dog poop”.
If you find this online…. im truly sorry bro. Ha ha.
I saw somebody who probably doesnt understand japanese flexing with his japanese tattoo. It is translated to english, surprise surprise, *a giant failure*.
“Japanese people are so dumb” Written in Japanese.
“Storm drain” on a guy who wanted “The way of water” like Bruce Lee always talked about.
A guy came up to my Mom and I and asked what character he had tattooed on his ankle. It was the word for fire in Chinese with an extra mark. When we told him there was a typo in the character, he said he knew it was fire but he added the extra line to make it look cooler. ?
I remember in elementary school my buddy had this really cool hoodie with Asian lettering and dragons n s**t, anyway one day our sub tells him the only thing written on it was “chicken wing” he also told him there were multiple different languages on it all used incorrectly
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”
Not sure if it’s already mentioned. I’ve seen a woman has the character “雞” tattooed on her arm. It’s translated to chicken, literally. But in Cantonese we often refer to prostitutes as “chicken”…
A girl I knew thought she was smart and had tattooed pussy destroyer in Japanese onto her arm in kanji.
This is hard to do because English slang doesn’t really translate well. She was so proud when she put it into google translate that it said cat destroyer. She picked the kanji for a destroyer class battleship not a person who destroys …
Me and my SO having lovingly named her cat battleship.
“tiny chicken” my friend got that thinking it said his name
Please dont use google translate to translate tattoos, i once saw “i once am a katana”
I do speak Japanese and I’ve decided if I ever get a kanji tattoo it will just say really mundane s**t – essentially a grocery list: “eggplant, noodles, milk…” but when people ask me what it means I’ll tell them “Courage” or “Family” or some s**t.
Taking back the dumb gaijin tattoo. Using my body for a goof only I am likely to appreciate.
My mom sent me a pic of her coworkers new Mandarin tattoo so I could translate it. It was supposed to say something about jesus or religion but it said “green” lol
He wanted the Chinese character for mother, he pronounced it wrong so the tattoo artist wrote horse instead
Not Japanese or Chinese, but I once saw “A*s glove” tattooed on someone’s chest in German.
They said it meant “Peace for all”
The common word for “and” gets mistaken a lot of “peace”, which is two words, “and” being the first of them(“wo” vs. “wo ping” in Cantonese). So there are a lot of people who just have the word “and” tatooed on them and I think that’s hilarious.
Chinese speaker here. In high school I worked at a CVS. A white woman showed up at the register with a very poorly drawn 力 tattoo, and I said “cool tattoo, means power”. She scoffed and replied to me like I was satan himself, and said “you obviously don’t understand Chinese “letters” the tattoo artist told me it means the strength to overcome anything, even breast cancer…” then she rolled her eyes at me and walked away.
机 on his fist. I haven’t taken Chinese but in Japanese it means ‘desk’.
A woman who told me her tattoo meant angel. It was actually hermet.
Former colleague of mine had *spirit* tattooed on his arm in Chinese. Some years later during a trip to China he discovered that what it actually said was *gas*.
“Kitchen” – confused the kanji, what he wanted Ihave no idea.
“Fat man” – he wanted “big guy” (tough guy?) apparently.
Ariana Grande’s hand tattoo mix up was a huge deal in Japanese media for a while too.
a big muscley tough looking guy with “accommodation” written in big kanji down his bicep.
Later I considered that maybe he was a property developer tho…
Not Chinese or Japanese but I knew a bloke who got “Rinne mé chroí amárach” tatooed on them thinking it meant “I will persevere” When in reality it translates to the grammatically incorrect “I made heart tomorrow”