New. Improved.

I lived in Japan for a total of four years, in the 1980s. I learned 600 kanji, (Japanese ideograms) in those four years. Only 600. That meant I would not have been able to graduate from high school. High school graduates must know the 2000 standard kanji to graduate. And now I can remember maybe 100 and can write maybe 25.

But foreign students of Japanese who live in Japan learn some kanji very quickly, like "exit", and "entrance", "restaurant", etc. And some kanji combinations ("phrase" is not the right word) stick in your mind too.

This all came back to me on the Milano metro a few days ago when I saw a bloke with some badly copied kanji tatoos...

…I looked and looked and was sure that I knew what they meant. I took a surreptitious photo (blurred and shakey as a consequence) so I could look it up when I got back home. But I didn't have to, the meaning of the mysterious kanji just popped back into my memory. 

They are pronounced "shin hatsu bai".

These kanji are used in advertising often...

...and what they mean is "new product!" . To translate the spirit of the kanji I'd say "New! Improved!"

So either the tatooist did not know what he was doing, or he was playing a joke on his customer.

Not everything in "the East" is "mysterious", especially when you understand the lingo.


  1. Mr. Google will provide links to hundreds of hilarious mistakes, such as the man who wanted “Live and Let Live” on his arm in Chinese, but ended up with the Mandarin for “Sweet and Sour Chicken.” At least the price was not included in this instance :-)
    Want China Times reported:
    “A female customer from Germany asked the artist for a tattoo on her shoulder of the Chinese translation for ‘You are responsible forever for that which you tame,’ a quote from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. This would have been a lengthy and probably il-advised translation in any case, but the woman got far worse — the three Chinese characters that mean ‘chicken noodle soup.’”
    A new meaning for 'alphabet soup'?

  2. I did not realise these errors were so common. I struggle with Japanese but can't read Chinese at all.


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