Disclosure: This kanji tattoos page contains affiliate links. Read full Disclosure Policy.
Japanese language may seem intimidating to non-native speakers, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a kanji tattoo. If you find Japanese calligraphy appealing for your body art, we rounded up the best kanji tattoos that will make everything unique and personal.
What Exactly Is a Kanji Tattoo?
In Japanese language, there are three different ways of writing: kanji, hiragana and katakana. The term kanji means Chinese or Han characters, and they were first used in Japan around 800 A.D. Evolved from written Chinese, kanji are used for writing nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, making them an ideal theme in tattoos.
However, Japanese cannot be written entirely in kanji, which is why hiragana and katakana are used, especially for words without corresponding kanji and grammatical endings. For this reason, you cannot just take any two kanji characters and put them together to make phrases in your tattoo. Also, a certain kanji character can carry multiple meanings, depending on the context and how it is pronounced.
More than that, it’s easy to confuse the real meaning behind the characters. While it’s quite tricky to put something in your body when you can’t read it, you can still ask some help from a Japanese friend, or work with a tattoo artist who knows how to write kanji. Even native Japanese speakers may take many decades to master Japanese calligraphy, so how much more for a non-native speaker?
Some of the most popular kanji tattoos are “love,” “believe,” “strength,” “respect,” “patience,” and “live for today.” If you want to make them a sort of dedication to your special someone, you may even tattoo her or his name in kanji characters. However, you must be aware that kanji cannot simply be substituted for the ABCs in an English name. In fact, there are some English sounds that don’t even exist in Japanese.
It’s said that the kanji tattoo craze stemmed from the popularity of Japanese animation and martial arts in the Western world. It became popular as the tattoo is visually appealing and packs a lot of meaning into limited space. Some designs are done in brush-like strokes and calligraphy, while others are stenciled and artistic.
Cool Kanji Tattoo Inspirations for You
Cherry Blossoms and Kanji Tattoo
Japanese tattoos are filled with symbolism, making them perfect for self-expression. This kanji tattoo is designed with cherry blossoms, which bloom in hues of pink and white in the springtime. In Japanese culture, it represents life, rebirth and rejuvenation. More than that, it’s associated with the age-old philosophy that “life is short” so each one of us must take the time to think about our goals and live life to the fullest.
A Symbol of Strength
In Japan, bamboo is regarded the symbol of strength because of its sturdy root structure. In some contexts, it’s also associated with innocence, purity, health, luck and prosperity. If you want to make your body art a source of strength, this kanji tattoo will remind you to be strong and flexible in the most challenging circumstances.
Overlapping Kanji Tattoo
When it comes to kanji tattoo, pay attention to the character’s strokes, as they’re critically important to the meaning of your body art. Did you know that the absence of a stroke when it is needed, as well as its wrong angle and position can give a completely different meaning, or even make everything meaningless? This one features overlapping characters, as if the design was ripped from a newspaper.
The Kanji Stamp Tattoo
Travelers have long marked their journeys with ink, so you might think of getting a kanji tattoo on your next trip to Japan. While there are many different reasons why people ink their bodies, a tattoo can also serve as a permanent souvenir from your travel—just like a stamp on a passport. Simple yet striking, this kanji tattoo looks sentimental and personal to the wearer.
A Kanji Character
Not every English word or sound has an equivalent character in Japanese, and literal translations often have completely different meanings. If you want to get a kanji tattoo, make sure it’s correctly written and avoid the mishaps of inscribing your skin with non-existent characters, as well as ones written in reverse or upside-down.
Bold Red Kanji Tattoo
Not for the faint of heart, this kanji tattoo is done in red ink and placed on the temple. While it’s quite daring to get a tattoo on your face, a single character with a powerful meaning works best. Think of values and principles such as love, faith, respect, honestly, loyalty and so on. While your tattoo color is a personal choice, it’s said that red is the most risky ink color due to its chemical composition. Still, experts recommend organic pigments than metal-based inks when you want to go for red.
Japanese Writing Tattoo
Whether you want to incorporate quotes, motto or values in kanji tattoo, opt for a good writing style. There are several fonts and writing styles for kanji and they can make or break your body art. Brushstrokes are great, but it also matters to find a tattoo artist who can give justice to the calligraphy design. After all, replicating the exact look of a brush-like effect in tattoo is challenging.
Sakura and Kanji Tattoo
Also called as cherry blossoms, sakura is of great significance to the Japanese culture. This kanji tattoo combined the traditional motifs with a modern symbol. It’s ideal for ones who find elaborate tattoos like koi fish, fierce dragons, and sword-wielding heroes intimidating.
The Brushstroke Effect
Replicating the effect of the strokes of a brush is quite challenging for a tattoo, but this one looks like the body is freshly painted with ink. It reminds us of the calligraphic scrolls hung in the walls featuring various Japanese poems, well-known sayings, as well as religious words and phrases.
Typed Kanji Tattoo
When going for a kanji tattoo, make sure to select an appropriate font for the characters. Did you know that an accurate translation can easily get ruined by the wrong typeface? For instance, a Gothic or Old English font can affect or even alter the meaning of “happiness” in tattoo, regarding on how it is perceived by the viewers. That means that the type of font you’ll choose for a kanji character matters too. As a rule of thumb, always go for a font that matches the meaning of the text in your body art.
A Symbolic Kanji Tattoo
It’s no doubt that kanji is a beautifully complex and you can express a lot of thoughts with a single character. A great thing, you may also think of inking Japanese names. Most of the time, kanji is not used for writing foreign names, as translating an English name to kanji is done in a phonetic basis—and often don’t end up with a recognizable meaning in Japanese. You may also consider going for a katakana or hiragana, though expect the pronunciation to change a bit.
Ripped Kanji Tattoo
If you want an impactful kanji tattoo, incorporate some artistic effects and symbolisms that match the meaning of the character. Even for non-Japanese speakers, this body art looks edgy and mysterious, making it perfect for ones who want to show their bold style and individuality.
Minimalist Kanji Tattoo
The best thing about a kanji tattoo is its versatility for different styles and personalities. If you’re minimalist by heart, this one is perfect for you—something subtle yet straightforward. Apart from a single character, you may also go for slogans and well-known quotes as long as they’re simple, small and tasteful.
The Kanji Characters
If you want your kanji tattoo to be more of a reminder or inspiration in your daily life, place it on your hands or fingers where you can see them easily. Each characters can have unique meaning whether it’s a core value or a name. Also, you may think of ones that are meant to be read together such as a quote, a poem or a motivational phrase.
Japanese Calligraphy Tattoo
This kanji tattoo reminds us of the kakemono or kakejiku, a Japanese scroll calligraphy often done in silk fabric. A great thing, the calligraphy writing in this body art is clean, elegant and easy to read. More than that, spine tattoos like this one make for the most wonderful kanji designs.
Cursive Kanji Tattoo
In Japanese writing, some move from one stroke to the next without lifting the pen or brush, which gives a cursive look to the characters. However, it’s quite tricky for a tattoo to get a deconstructed look since it can be more challenging to read. As a rule of thumb, always go for a handwriting that is readable at the same time artistic.
Dragon and Kanji Tattoo
While dragons got some negative associations in the West, they’re regarded as the protectors of mankind in Japanese culture. This kanji tattoo with the creature symbolizes wisdom, strength and bravery. If you want to go for ones that represent a variety of virtues, think of a gold dragon.
Red Flower and Kanji Tattoo
If you want to make your kanji tattoo more meaningful, incorporate some flower design. Apart from aesthetic appeal, flowers also hold special meaning depending on their kind and color. For instance, a red camellia represents love, as well as a noble death for samurai and warriors. If you’re not familiar with Japanese culture, think of ones that are popular in your region, including roses, sunflowers, lotus, and so on.
Bold Kanji Tattoo
If you want something bold and edgy, go for brush style fonts that have a heavier appearance. While kanji tattoo packs a punch with meaningful characters, it can be unreadable for non-Japanese speakers. Compared to dragon and koi fish tattoos that are self-explanatory, a kanji tattoo relies heavily on its font.
Kanji Shoulder Tattoo
Brushstroke tattoos create beautifully artistic designs. While you may combine your shoulder kanji tattoo with a variety of unique subjects, going for a good calligraphy writing and a bold color can make a bold statement itself.
Artistic Kanji Tattoo
Who says you can’t incorporate art with a kanji tattoo? Instead of the typical brushstroke or calligraphy writing, this design combined various tattooing styles and techniques including dotwork, linework and abstract, just to name a few.
Kanji Wrist Tattoo
When it comes to writing kanji, you should always start your stroke from left to right or top to bottom, or else it will look different, especially in brushstroke. If you’re going for a kanji tattoo, make sure that the original design that will be tattooed on your skin is written in proper stroke order.
Flaming Kanji Tattoo
Who says you can’t add drama to your kanji tattoo? Incorporating an elaborate design on the character itself is quite tricky, but this one is perfectly executed. Just pay attention to proper spacing and color contrast of the character and the design.
The Kanji Mark
We liked the writing on this kanji tattoo, as it looks natural—not like a foreign hand drew it. Also, it mimics the fluidity of brushstrokes with variations in texture and weight in each stroke. This tattoo design is perfect for minimalists who love a subtle yet impactful body art.
The Blood Stain Effect
Going for a paint splatter or blood stain effect will make your kanji tattoo artistic. Just make sure that the color and design match the meaning of your tattoo. The blood-like pigment of the design perfectly contrasted the bold black kanji writing.
A Cryptic Tattoo
Are you looking for a tattoo with a hidden meaning? Instead of the typical kanji in brushstrokes, think of this cryptic tattoo. It’s more daring than the popular optical illusion design, connect-the-dots and inks that glow under the black light.
Stenciled Kanji Tattoo
While kanji tattoo is often done in brushstroke design, you may also think of a font that’s comprised of hard and sharp corners—the ones you usually see in logos, newspapers and big displays.
Kanji tattoos are impressive, but it’s not advisable to view the characters solely as a design element in your body art. Some people simply pick them without fully understanding the language, which is dangerous. There are countless instances where kanji tattoos are technically correct but mean differently to a native speaker.
If you’re thinking of getting a kanji tattoo, make sure to work with a reputable tattoo artist who is expert in Japanese language and calligraphy. Or, check the meaning of your desired kanji with someone who understands Japanese before getting it inked. This way, you’ll be able to get your kanji tattoo right and have something you’ll surely be proud of.