Tattoos Gone Wrong: People Share The Worst Tattoo Translations They’ve Ever Seen
Getting a tattoo in a language you don’t understand is rarely a good idea. Just ask Ariana Grande, whose attempt at inking “7 Rings” in Japanese characters on her palm didn’t quite work out as planned when she ended up with something that translated more closely to “tiny charcoal grill.” And she isn’t the only one. The issue lies in the complicated characters of hanzi and kanji (the Chinese and Japanese character sets), which are often copied from an unreliable template and can easily lead to errors when directly translated—just ask these people.
Don’t forget to check the comment section below the article for more interesting stories!
#1 Illiterate Foreigner
My buddy has “illiterate foreigner” in traditional Chinese characters. It’s dope.
#2 Little Animal, Big Mistake
I was scrolling through the web at some tattoos for fun and a person said they got a tattoo that said, “Strength and courage” in Japanese. It actually said, “Little animal, big mistake.” Great quote, but I don’t think they thought so after they got it permanently marked on their skin.
#3 Tiny Chicken
“Tiny chicken,” my friend got that thinking it said his name.
#4 Monkey Zodiac
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!”
#5 Three Small Dishes
My friend got a tattoo that said “Veni Vidi Vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered) in Chinese. Well, so he thought. The tattoo actually said “three small dishes.”
#6 Beef Noodle Soup
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. The man looked ready to get the rest of his favorite restaurant’s menu tattooed on his body.
#7 I Once Am a Katana
Please don’t use Google Translate to translate tattoos, I once saw “I once am a katana”
#8 Curse Words
A friend of mine had a tattoo shop. He put up a flash page with kanji for swear words. If anyone asked the meaning, he would honestly tell them. However, he would regularly get people come in, see the character, think it “looked cool” and get it inked on without ever bothering to ask. He thought that was hilarious.
#9 Goldfish Man
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. Wonder under what circumstances he got that inked…
#10 Dog Poop
I met a guy in the air port when I came back from living in Tokyo for two years who had just visited Japan. He had two 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.”
#11 Pig Princess
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. “High princess.” Turns out it actually said “pig princess.”
#12 Purposeful Typo
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.
#13 I Fear Everyone
Gets a tattoo in google translate Japanese thinking it says “fear no one” but it really means “I fear everyone.”
#14 The Strength to Overcome Anything
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.”
#16 Crass T-Shirt
Not a tattoo, but I used to live in China and it was considered fashionable to have English lettering on your clothing regardless if you spoke English or not. I once saw an old woman literally in her 80s or 90s with “drugs are my life” on her T-shirt. I guess at that age she’s probably not wrong, but still.
#17 I Don’t Speak Chinese
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.”
#18 Hot Bananas are Peace
I had a student that transferred from Japan in high school who I was good friends with. A kid came in with a phrase in English that said: “come to me if you wish to free your mind,” and then supposedly the same phrase in Japanese. She noticed and whispered the phrase to me which was “Hot bananas are peace.”
#19 I’m a Cute Little Princess
A 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.
#20 Man Who Sleeps with Dogs
Arabic, not Japanese or Chinese. While I was in Saudi (for the First Gulf War), we had our name tags re-done to include our name in Arabic. An enlisted Arabic soldier read the name tag of a friend of mine and started laughing uncontrollably. His supervisor ran over yelling at him, apparently wanting to know why he was laughing at the American soldier. The young man could only point at the name tag. The supervisor apologized profusely but explained to the Major the Arabic portion of the name tag said, “He who sleeps with dogs.” Don’t know if it was the maker of the name tags or the guy (friend) we sent to have them made. The Major walked over to the young enlisted guy, put his arm around his soldier and laughed with him. I think that went a long way toward their understanding of us.
#21 Beep Beep Lettuce
#22 Who’s Tomokazu?
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.
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 my 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.
I met a girl who showed me her tattoo saying it said “love.” Sadly it said “weird.” Similar kanji (love:愛 or 恋, weird: 変).
I’ve seen some funny ones online, but most recently I saw a dude with a tattoo that said “household” on his arm(家庭), talking about a family more in the sense of a unit rather than something with sentiment. I was at a Chinese takeaway in a western city’s suburb with two friends who also understand Mandarin and said loudly in Mandarin, “Why does his arm’s tattoo say household?” and the dude didn’t flinch, which tells me he definitely doesn’t understand Chinese.
家 itself means family, but also can mean house. my guess is that he just looked up synonyms in a Chinese dictionary without really looking at the proper meaning because he thought two characters together looked better than one lone one.
Not a tattoo but for a hot minute in the 90s there was this bizarre trend of having baseball cap with the team’s a name in a Chinese character. One guy I knew in high school was a really big Buffalo Bill’s fan and bought one. I’m Chinese but I can’t read but my friend could and asked this guy “why do you have a hat that says cow?”
Bills fan smugly said, “it says Bills.” My buddy was like, “I’m from Hong Kong, I can read it, there’s no Chinese character for Bills, it says cow.” Dude never wore the hat again.
#27 Fat Man
“Kitchen.” He confused the kanji, what he wanted to have I have no idea. And “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.
I probably shouldn’t be saying this as the person who had this done to them is my best friend but… oh well. 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 three 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 two 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 percent 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…
#29 Fresh Spring Rolls
“Fresh spring rolls.”
#30 Brave Woman
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, “Yeah, 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.”
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” tattooed on them and I think that’s hilarious.
#32 Use Other Entrance
I was in line at Burger King with a co-worker from China. A young woman ahead of us had some Chinese tattooed on her lower back. My friend translated. It said: “Use other entrance.”
#33 Peace for All
Not Japanese or Chinese, but I once saw “A$$ glove” tattooed on someone’s chest in German. They said it meant “Peace for all.”
#34 Inappropriate T-Shirt
I used to have a classmate who would wear a t-shirt with a sexually explicit Japanese phrase on it… to our Japanese class. Our professor seemed kind of uncomfortable about it and asked him if he knew what his shirt said. He proudly said yes and continued to wear it to class on a regular basis. Sigh.
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…
#36 Chicken with Noodles
I don’t speak Chinese but back in college, I knew a guy who was one of those idiot guys who likes to brag about how cultured they are and stuff when really they’re not. 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.
The tattooed guy got kind of 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.”
For me it was something someone claimed was “Chinese writing” but barely resembled any Chinese characters. It just looked like some squiggles. They thought it was love 爱 but it definitely wasn’t.
豆腐 The word tofu was tattooed on the inner part of this guy’s bicep. I asked him, “Do you really like tofu?” He replied with some doctrine that meant to tattoo something ridiculous on yourself for life. He had plenty of other tattoos that didn’t mean what he thought they meant.
#39 I Don’t Speak This Language
A friend of mine once told me he saw a guy with something like “I don’t speak this language” tattooed on his arm.
#40 Public Restroom
I’ve seen “public restroom” in Chinese.
A 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.”
#42 Child Changing Station
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 idiot of a guy at the detachment I was with whose back tattoo read “child changing station.” He told everyone it was something like “strength, loyalty, determination.”
#43 Scared Not Loli
Water. Just the character for water. I’ve also seen someone get their name “in Chinese.” He was rude to me so I explained to him that that’s not how it works and that his name is literally “scared not loli.”
#44 I Love Fat Boys
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.
#45 Don’t Fall for This
My cousin worked in a restaurant with a Chinese guy who whenever he saw a Chinese/Japanese character tattoo would ask, “Why does your tattoo say soup?” He’d do this regardless of what the tattoo actually said.