The Japanese symbol for family – Read this before you get the tattoo!

Kanji “Family” tattoo by reis_ink

The closest equivalent Japanese kanji symbols for the English word “family” are: 


kazoku (family)

It is actually really common for people to want to express a love of “family” in their tattoos. This leads many people to get the Japanese word for family 家族 inked in as a design. It is also quite common to get tattoos for mother, father, brother, sister etc.

In this article, we discuss the pluses and minuses of getting this as a tattoo, look at some examples, and think about what other options there are for expressing a similar sentiment.

The word 家族 kazoku is a pretty close equivalent to the English word “family”, but probably has different sense of nuance. To get more of a thorough understanding of the resonances of the word kazoku it is worth thinking about the two Chinese kanji characters that make up the word.

What do the two Chinese characters that make up 家族 kazoku mean?

The first kanji in this word is:


(ie, uchi, ka, ke, ya)

This character spans a range of meanings and readings. The parts that actually make this symbol up have the meanings of “cave” and “pig”. If a pig in a cave doesn’t say family to you, what does 😉

By itself the kanji primarily means house, home or family.

In this way it parallels the English word “house”, which can be used to mean “family” in the sense of “House of Montague” etc.

The kanji can also be placed other words to indicate a person who does something, in the sense of a professional, expert or performer in words like

音楽家 (ongakuka) a musician

評論家 (hyoronka) a critic

作曲家 (sakkyokuka) a composer

Words that use the kanji for ie in it’s sense of “house” or “family” include:

家庭 (katei)

home; family; household

家臣 (kashin)

vassal; retainer

家内 (kanai)

Inside the home; a person’s wife

The second Chinese Character in the word for “family” in Japanese is:


tribe; clan; band; (taxonomical) tribe; group (of the periodic table)

This kanji gives the sense of a group of people, a tribe or clan. Other words that use the character include:

民族 (minzoku)

people; race; nation; ethnic group

貴族 (kizoku)

noble; aristocrat

一族 (ichizoku)

family; relatives; dependents; household

親族 (shinzoku)


So the sense of the word 家族 is of a house-tribe. 

Family tat by sheila_oi

Contrasting meanings of “family” in Japan and the West

The first thing to note is that the Japanese word 家族 kazoku is not as all encompassing or abstract as the word “family”. 

The English word “family” can refer to either “immediate family” or “extended family”. Eg. relatives.

The Japanese word “kazoku” more strictly refers to only immediate family, and so has a sense of suggesting a connection with “kinship” more generally. 

It is also worth noting that the idea of the “nuclear family” is not as strong in Japan as it is in much of the Western world. Japan has more of an emphasis on larger group dynamics, whereas the West has more of a focus on individuals and small groups – such as family.

For example, it is quite common for companies or large corporations to expect their employees to be willing to move across the country, or indeed, abroad according to the needs of the organization with fairly minimal consideration for the impact that that may have on the family. 

So writing 家族  as a tattoo can often seem a bit weird or incongruous to Japanese people.

The symbols for family 家族 with “love” 愛 at the top. Img: dacarpe.tatto

Can family be represented in one Japanese symbol?

There is no one Japanese symbol or letter that perfectly equates with the meaning of the English “family”.

The kanji 家 goes some of the way, but by itself it is more commonly associated with the meaning of “House”.  

 Other words that get used to describe “family” in Japan

There are actually a plethora of words that can be used to describe “family” in Japan. Some of the words that are contenders for playing the role of “family” in a tattoo are listed below.


(ikka, ikke)

This word also means family. It includes the most simple Chinese Character of all 一 , a horizontal straight line denoting “1”. Combined the character for house, or family, 家 this word gives the sense of a single, united “house” or family. 

Examples of the word used in sentences include:


Has the Tanaka family gone back to Japan?


He supports a family.


The whole family is out walking.

家庭 “household” tattoo by

Other less tattoo-appropriate words for family

There are a lot of other words you could consider for a Japanese symbol meaning family, but most of them have meanings closer to “household” than to “family” per se. Words in this category include:

世帯 (setai)

所帯 (shotai)

家庭 (katei)

Other non-kanji symbols for family in Japan

Japan has a rich history of families having their own symbols in their family crests. These symbols are exquisitely beautiful in their simplicity. Here are a couple of famous examples.

Japanese Kamon by sjrankin is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Nobunaga kamon by aikao is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

How is family expressed in chinese?

The word used in Japanese for family, 平和 heiwa is also used in China but pronounced in mandarin as Hépíng.

How popular is the Japanese symbol for family as a tattoo?

The kanji 家族 kazoku is a is fairly popular to get as a chinese character tattoo.

It’s not as big as something like the japanese symbol for love 愛.

Are the Chinese characters for “family” written the same in Japanese and Chinese?

Yes, the characters for family are written in the same way in Chinese and Japanese.

What do the primitive forms of the Chinese character for family look like?

If you want to get an old style version of the characters for 家族 they look like this:

Examples of the Kanji for “family” 平和 in sentences?


How many people are there in your family?


He abandoned his family.


To live in family

Stroke order for writing the characters in the Japanese symbol for family

So should you get “family” done as a tattoo in Japanese lettering?

Well that’s a personal decision, but hopefully we’ve given you some food for thought in considering your design.

If you want to get more of an overview of the area check out this introduction to getting a Japanese lettering tattoo.