Let’s look at why you shouldn’t get a tattoo if you don’t speak that language. For example, the thousands of people like Britney Spears who got a Kanji tattoo on her stomach that she thought meant “mysterious”. It turns out that it actually means “Strange”. It may be more fitting but I’m sure it wasn’t what she was going for.
Most tattoo artist are not well versed in other languages or cultures so they take the flash off the wall at face value. All oriental writing styles must have close attention paid to the stroke, width, and angle of every aspect of the character or you risk changing the meaning completely.
You must also realize that you can not try to spell an English word in Chinese or Japanese because they do not have an alphabet. You will find flash translation sheets in many tattoo shops that list characters to represent our phonetic alphabet. In order to take those symbols and have a native oriental understand what you mean is ludicrous. It would just look and read as chicken scratch.
You must also understand that just because a string of symbols means one thing in say Chinese does not mean they translate the same in Japanese. Even though they use the same set of characters they can have totally opposite meanings.
?? in Chinese literally means “horse & deer”, however in Japanese, they mean “stupid” or “idiot/fool”
?? makes “Amber” in Chinese, but in Japanese it makes “Yasunori”, which is a guy’s name. Imagine walking around the streets of Japan with a tattoo that you thought was your wifes name in a heart, but everyone that sees you on the street will wonder why you have a mans name in a heart.
There are companies advertising that they have “thousands of professional tattoo designs.” Here are just a few examples of the tattoos in the “Kanji” section of a well known flash tattoo site. Not only are there many Kanji symbols with poor brushwork, lots of them have completely wrong English translations like:
? “Wild” – really means “Color”
? “Spirit” – really means “Child” but with an extra unnecessary stroke at the top
? “Child” – really means “Evening”
? “To Die Young” – really means “Sky, Heaven”
? “Passion” – really means “Rough, Violent, Coarse”
You can probably imagine the embarrassment if you had gotten one of these tattoos to later find out it means something completely different. Your “Wild Child” would become “Color Evening”.
I personally don’t understand why someone would want a tattoo that is not in their native language. I have words tattooed on myself but every one is in English and has no possibility of being misinterpreted. If you must get Kanji, Chinese, or Japanese tattoos I stress that you do your homework. If you don’t believe me you can check out Hanzi Smatter a website devoted to the misuse of chinese characters in western tattoos. There are hundreds of examples of tattoos that do not mean what their owners intended.