TATTOOS in JAPANESE

Basic 1 : Tips on Construction

"There are many choices. What will you choose?"

[ First of all ]

When people use Japanese as a design for a tattoo, there are several choices that must be made on the grammar, the letters, and just the overall writing. There are also choices that even that Japanese of today don't generally learn in school. In this section, I will explain all the different choices and what may be the best choice for you.

[ The Original Japanese or The Modern Japanese ]

In 1946, the Japanese language was completely changed into the modern Japanese language that it is today. The Japanese government however made this change without much discussion. Because of this, today there is a huge barrier between the modern and original Japanese languages. Most Japanese today are unable to read and write the original language. They are only familiar with the modern version of the language. For this reason, the general population in Japan can't even read documents from the Edo era. Only scholars and well informed people can understand and use original Japanese.

In comparison to Modern Japanese, which is not even 100 years old yet, the Original Japanese had been used and improved on for over 1400 years. Because of this, the Modern is like a small child when used as a design for a tattoo. For this reason, I suggest using the Original. It has a more unique and even a magical atmosphere. There is a greater power and presence in the Original. There is a similar relationship between English and Latin. Many English words are based off of original Latin words, but the Latin words hold a unique atmosphere and power when used today.

So if you are a casual person, you don't really need to mind which one you use. But if you are more of a hardcore person and really care about the meaning of your tattoos, then I would seriously suggest you have the supreme presence of the original language that was used for over 1400 years as a tattoo for your body. I am sure there are some ignorant Japanese people that would tell you, "Hey, that Japanese is wrong!" if they saw your tattoo in the original language. If that should happen, you should just say to them, "What? You don't know the origin of your own language? You should be ashamed? Are you even Japanese?" Of course this is just a joke ( but I am serious, haha).

- For Casual People: You don't need to care which one you choose.
- For Hardcore People: The more hardcore you are, the more you should choose the Original.

[ The Original Japanese or Ancient Writings (Beyond the Original) ]

" 万葉集 Manyoshuu " This is the oldest existing collection of tanka that was written in about 759.
" 竹取物語 Takeroti Monogatari " This is the oldest existing book of tale's that were written in Hiragana in 900-950.
" 枕草子 Makura no Soushi " This is the oldest existing essay that was written about in 1000.

The Japanese at those times wrote in ancient writings. It has different grammar from even the Original (Japanese from about 400 years ago). The Modern Japanese is actually based on it, so there are still many points that they have in common and still exist in both of them.

Today, we can learn about this in Junior High and High School. However most students get bored with it in the very beginning and don't care about it at all since the grammar and words are so different from the current words used today. So most Japanese definitely can't write or even understand the ancient writings. If you can successfully use this almost forgotten Japanese, I think it would be awesome.

I am going to show you some on this website. If you like it, why not use it as a tattoo?

For Everyone: I would like to recommend using the ancient writings for everyone, even for native Japanese.

[ Word or Sentence ]

The first big choice that you must make consists of 2 options.

A : First is to use only one word or a couple or words (a pair of Kanji).
B : Second is to use an entire sentence or sentences.

A : Word B : Sentence
Sometimes vague and may only convey a general meaning but it is easy to know and can have a bold layout. More unique and personal but needs to be a smaller and you must have more knowledge to understand the whole meaning.

Here are some examples of the former:

愛 a Love | 家族 a Family | 闇 the Dark | 斬 Cutting | 雷電 a Thunderbolt | 百合 a Lily | 百合の花 a flower of a lily

In the category A choices, you can easily refer to an online dictionary if you simply have a computer and the internet. However, this can lead to many mistakes and misunderstandings as well. Additionally, this way is often too vague and meaningless for a personal design for a tattoo because it is merely one word. Here's an example:

"My love for my family" ≠ (You mistranslated) "Family love" = " 家族愛 ".

家族愛 describes "a general feeling and an action in which people love their own family". Imagine a situation where the letter of "Family Love" is permanently on your body. It is kind of weird, isn't it? Now if you want to express your love "for your family ", you should express it more precisely, and to do so, the latter is more useful in which you can make the expression using a whole sentence.

家族のしあはせこそ余の至福なれ ( My family's happiness is my supreme bliss.)
我身 家族に賭す ( I will devote my life for my family. )

But as you may have already guessed, this requires a lot more knowledge of Japanese and is a lot harder than the former. However, I think because of this, it is a lot cooler.

- For Casual People : You don't need to care about which one to use.
- For Hardcore People : I will recommend using a sentence unless you seriously only want to use a proper noun. A longer sentence will however be more unique and meaningful.

[ Vertical or Horizontal / Left to Right or Right to Left ]

The alphabet is always written horizontally from left to right. Japanese is commonly written from left to right too, but it can also be written horizontally and vertically. The Original and the Modern also have a different set of rules. Depending on your choice, you will have to follow their respective rules.

Here is one important issue. Fundamentally Japanese has improved like it becomes a good proportion when people write vertically since times that there is no digital writing and publishing. There however is one very important issue. Fundamentally, Japanese has had many improvements in how it is written vertically since the times before digital writing and publishing. After many improvements, the Japanese characters are proportioned very well when written vertically. Actually, there was no system of writing horizontally until European culture was introduced to Japan in modern times. Therefore, you should always follow the rule of writing vertically when you use a writing brush font as this is more authentic. This choice of writing vertically or horizontally is actually specifically tied to which kind of font you choose. (I will explain more in detail later).

We use vertical writing in many things published like, Manga, Magazines, Novels, Newspapers, Pamphlets, and so on. However, we can't write vertically on the internet.

- General Suggestion : A Writing Brush Font must be written vertically (Type C and Type D). The Japanese characters are proportioned well when you write vertically. However today, writing horizontally is popular (Type B). So it would be fine to use Modern Fonts horizontally, but writing with a brush font should still only be done vertically.

- For the Original : It must be written vertically and from right to left (Type C). You can write a simple catchphrase or word horizontally from right to left (Type G), but there was no custom of writing entire sentences horizontally. When you are required to write several sentences horizontally, you should instead write them vertically.

- For the Modern : Vertically (Type D) and Horizontally (Type B) are alright, but a line must be written from left to right when writing horizontally (Type B).

The OriginalThe Modern
Left to Right
&
Horizontal
&
Top to Bottom
TypeA Denied
TypeB Accepted
Top to Bottom
&
Vertical
&
Left to Right
TypeC Accepted
TypeD Accepted
Top to Bottom
&
Vertical
&
Right to Left
TypeE Denied
TypeF Denied
Left to Right
&
Horizontal
&
Top to Bottom
TypeG Accepted
TypeH Denied

[ Which Font is better? ]

There are many different types of fonts to write Japanese, but there is no font that is the BEST. It all depends on what you want. Every font is certainly Japanese that we normally use, so feel free to choose whatever you like. They are all common and authentic. I will show you some examples of some of the more common fonts used.

Serif A font that is suited for a letterpress and the modern publishing system, while still keeping the writing to look traditional. It is easy to get this font and make a design, but it does have a lack of originality. 明朝体 Min cho tai
Vertical : Alright
Horizontal : Alright
Sans Serif A font that has more of an alphabet atmosphere by removing the traditional look of the Japanese characters. This font is only common to modern times, and by arranging it geometrically, you can release the potential this font has to offer. ゴシック体 Gothic tai
Vertical : Alright
Horizontal : Alright
Rounded
Sans Serif
A font that has a friendly feeling. In Japan, it is used in things published for children and the elderly. Often used when the designer wants to express a heartfelt atmosphere. If you want this type of atmosphere, this is a nice font to use, but if you write something like "hatred" in this font, it might have the opposite effect. (It would be an interesting idea though). 丸ゴシック体 Maru Gothic tai
Vertical : Alright
Horizontal : Alright
Brush A font that is written with a brush. This style has existed since times where there was no pen. Although writing the alphabet vertically is weird, writing vertically is necessary when using this font. By using this font, you will get a power that can only be obtained from years of tradition, something which you cannot get in the modern fonts. 寄席文字 Yose Moji
Vertical : Recommend
Horizontal : unRecommend
籠文字 Kago Moji
Vertical : Recommend
Horizontal : unRecommend
麗楷書 Rei Kaisho
Vertical : Recommend
Horizontal : unRecommend
Fancy A font that has some traditional elements to it. It is very unique and full of freedom that makes it definitely different from more traditional styles. Therefore, I will not recommend it for people who think tradition is important. This style however is more suitable for women since it is often considered cute and fancy. POP体 Poppu tai
Vertical : Alright
Horizontal : Alright
えんえん体 En en tai
Vertical : Alright
Horizontal : Alright
クラフト童 Kurahuto Warabe
Vertical : Alright
Horizontal : Alright
Handwritten A font that we write by our own hand. It might have a disadvantage since it will not be perfectly proportioned, but what really is a perfect proportion? Perfect is often boring anyway. Letters were often symbols that people would use to pray to nature or to gods in ancient times. If it is true, I believe writing with your own hand and expressing your passion on your own body must be meaningful. ペン字体 Penji tai
Vertical : Alright
Horizontal : Alright

By the way, a digital font is usually useful but it lacks originality. It always supplies the same figure as if it were just a stamp or a stencil. Especially in Japanese, each letter must have a suitable distance. But a digital font can't cover this because the combination of symbols is almost limitless. If you can, I would recommend writing it out by your own hand.

- For Everyone : Choose a suitable font that suits your individual needs.

[ How to properly proportion Kanji and Hiragana in a sentence ]

When writing a sentence using both Kanji and Hiragana, the size of the Hiragana should be 10%-20% smaller than the Kanji. When following this rule, the sentence will be properly proportioned. Additionally, a Kanji that consists of many strokes should be spacious while a Kanji with fewer strokes should be more compact. Doing so will allow you to write even better.

There is one note however when using digital fonts. Digital fonts don't always follow these rules, so you may have to make adjustments yourself.


This style is sometimes used as a design for the title of a movie, manga, novel, and so on. Because it is much more unique, you can achieve an amusing and informal atmosphere with this style. This style could definitely catch people's attention, however, you must have some skill in making a good layout to use this style effectively.

This style is also used as a design for the title of movies, manga, novels, and so on. Sometimes it is used in combination with the style mentioned above. However, if you use it too much, it will just begin to look vulgar.

[ Can I Ignore the Order of Kanji? ]

This subject has a very simple answer. NO! Do Not Ignore It! There is absolutely only one correct order for each Kanji, and by following this order, it will be properly written and proportioned.

I recommend using this website for researching the correct order. Copy Kanji, then paste in the blanks.

- For Everyone : You must follow the proper order.

[ To Punctuate or To Not Punctuate ]

In Japanese, a comma is " 、 ", a period is " 。 ".

さっきランチを食べたばかりなのに、もうお腹が減ってきた。
Despite eating lunch some time ago, I already feel like eating some more.

I don't think it is necessary to use punctuation in a tattoo however. It almost makes it like you are writing a in a notebook or a diary. I feel it takes away from the effect of a tattoo, but if you want to, it is alright of course.

- For Everyone : You don't really need to punctuate.

[ Poetic or Prosaic ]

This choice is kind of more difficult than others. Even if it is just a simple sentence, if it is something that is truthful and from your heart, then it is definitely worth tattooing.

- My Opinion : I feel something important should be described in a poetic expression that is written in the Original Japanese or even the Ancient Writings.

Again, I feel if it is written normally, it might appear to be like something that is just written in a notebook or a diary. I will show you some poetic sample sentences I made on this website.

[ The Ultimate Example of a Japanese Tattoo ]

Here is the most extreme example of a Japanese text tattoo. " Mimi Nashi Houichi " is a character in a fictional horror story that is based on a person who really existed. Of course this is a rare case and I have never actually seen a person like that before. Hoichi is merely a character in the story, and even what is done to him is not actually a tattoo. In the story, his master monk wrote letters in ink all over his body to temporarily guard him against the curse of a ghost. But this style is very extreme and is even considered exotic to the Japanese.

I am also
Orii Souan, a Japanese Painter. You can see samples of Japanese calligraphy on my paintings at my another site www.oriisouan.com . I hope you can get some good idea for your tattoo.