Neo-Nazi kanji

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Tattoo on the shoulder of a marcher in Charlottesville on Saturday, August 12:

Source: "A lot of white supremacists seem to have a weird Asian fetish," Vice News, Dexter Thomas (9/12/17)

People who know only the Chinese forms of the characters are puzzled by this tattoo.  It is a Japanese kanji, not a Chinese hanzi.

It can mean English "real": riaru リアル.

The on (Sinitic style) reading is jitsu the kun (Japanese style) reading is mi.

See the etymologies here.

The Chinese simplified equivalent is shí 实; the traditional form is 實.

Check out the definitions here: "real; true; honest; solid"   I think the guy is wearing this tattoo to indicate his dedication to "truth" and "reality".

[h.t. Ben Zimmer, Lane Greene; thanks to Fangyi Cheng]


  1. Ed M said,

    September 18, 2017 @ 10:54 am

    VM wrote "I think the guy is wearing this tattoo to indicate his dedication to 'truth' and 'reality'."

    Dedication to truth and reality are not attributes one commonly associates with bigots.

  2. Scott said,

    September 18, 2017 @ 12:32 pm

    @Ed M: I figured that was the reason for the scare quotes, i.e., to highlight the irony.

  3. Different Scott said,

    September 18, 2017 @ 2:50 pm

    There are white supremacists who call themselves 'race realists', and there are misogynists who call themselves 'Red Pillers', in reference to the red pill in The Matrix that imparts a certain clarity of vision.

    It's not a point of view that I share, but I think it's a feature of today's radical right (or whatever you want to call it) that they claim special insight or access to the truth—something, they claim, not shared by centrist or traditional conservatives.

  4. Jim Breen said,

    September 18, 2017 @ 5:42 pm

    >> It is a Japanese kanji, not a Chinese hanzi.

    I initially took that to mean it is a 国字 (made-in-Japan kanji) like 峠. But no,
    it's just the common Japanese simplification of 實.

  5. Chris C. said,

    September 18, 2017 @ 5:43 pm

    A link to the English-language Wiktionary page for the character might be more informative for those of us who can't read Japanese:

  6. dainichi said,

    September 18, 2017 @ 7:43 pm

    > It is a Japanese kanji

    So am I to understand that people never simplify 實 like this outside of Japan? My general impression was that various simplifications existed all over, and it just happened that different ones were used as standards under different regimes. To what extent were different simplifications specific to a specific location? (I use "were" here because I'm assuming that with standardization and the decline of handwriting, non-standard simplifications are becoming much rarer.)

  7. John Swindle said,

    September 18, 2017 @ 10:46 pm

    Hanzi Smatter currently has an item on this tattoo. About all it adds is the name of the tattooed person.

    I'll second dainichi's question about the simplification of the character. The Japanese character looks a lot like the current simplified Chinese version. Is there such a thing as degrees of intelligibility between scripts?

  8. B.Ma said,

    September 19, 2017 @ 3:15 am

    It is a Japanese kanji, not a Chinese hanzi.

    When translated fully, this becomes it is a Japanese Chinese character, not a Chinese Chinese character.

    Yesterday I got into an argument with somebody who claimed that kanji weren't "really" Japanese because the 漢 means Chinese.

    @dainichi / J.Swindle, I don't believe any Chinese person today, who knows Chinese better than Japanese, would write 実 when writing Chinese (unless they had been writing Japanese frequently and Chinese rarely, and became a bit muddled).

    If the Chinese person didn't know any Japanese at all, they would be unlikely to understand 実, particularly if they are a user of traditional characters. If scribbled then 実 could possibly pass for 实.

    To be pedantic, outside of Japan, Japanese users would still write 実.

  9. John Swindle said,

    September 19, 2017 @ 4:43 am

    B. Ma, thank you. I've belatedly remembered where I learned the 実 version, and it was indeed Japanese and strange to a foreign learner of Chinese.

    Still, the simplifications didn't appear out of nowhere. "Si Ti Da Zidian" 《四体大字典》('Large Four-Form Character Dictionary', Shanghai 1926, reproduced 1980) shows ancient forms that look vaguely intermediate to the two simplifications and ancestral to both.

  10. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 19, 2017 @ 6:19 am

    The wikipedia article on this fellow suggests that his political views and affiliations may have evolved (not necessarily for the better) over time. Absent specific information that he got this tattoo let's say 3 years ago (when he had already segued into something close to his current political persona) rather than by contrast 13 years ago (when he apparently hadn't), I wouldn't assume the tattoo must somehow specifically resonate with his current politics, perhaps making it a fool's errand to try to come up with theories trying to explain an assumed match between tattoo and worldview.

  11. Rodger C said,

    September 19, 2017 @ 6:51 am

    Right : 実 :: left : woke.

  12. Michael said,

    September 19, 2017 @ 12:49 pm

    >>Check out the definitions here: "real; true; honest; solid" I think the guy is wearing this tattoo to indicate his dedication to "truth" and "reality"

    I'd be inclined to guess something closer to purity or honor, but I don't speak Japanese.

  13. Matt said,

    September 19, 2017 @ 7:52 pm

    If scribbled then 実 could possibly pass for 实.

    Right, because, as John Swindle said, they originally come from the same family of scribbles (okay, cursive). You can reconstruct the evolution: the middle part of 實 was simplified to a dot, and the bottom part into something like 大 with an extra dot on at the top left. The Chinese 实 character preserves this "two dots + 大" cursive structure, while in the Japanese 実 character the dots have been "back-楷書ed" as extra crossbars on the 大.

  14. Krogerfoot said,

    September 19, 2017 @ 11:43 pm

    The Vice article points to a handful of racist/fascist luminaries who've expressed admiration for Asian countries' supposed success in "preserving" their culture from foreign influence. Another leading celeb among alt-right circles, Millennial Matt, reportedly fled to Japan after his notoriety got out of hand; he also praised the country for its relative homogeneity.
    In my experience guys like this enjoy Japan for a couple of weeks before developing an exquisite sensitivity to the worst kind of discrimination, i.e. the kind against themselves. This leads them to reexamine their views in approximately zero percent of cases.

  15. krogerfoot said,

    September 20, 2017 @ 9:38 am

    I veered from the gravamen of my discourse in the previous comment. I meant to say: The willingness of Westerners of any political leaning to permanently inscribe themselves with words and symbols they don't understand makes it unlikely that there's any more interesting story behind this Nazi's tattoo.

    Then again, the 実 tattoo is both well rendered and actually means something on its own, which puts it in the 95th percentile of Western body ink. So maybe the Goobermensch in the photo—Cryin' Chris Cantwell—made a more deliberate selection of kanji than I'd like to give him credit for.

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