The closest equivalent Japanese kanji symbols for the English word “peace” are:
The concept of “peace” is a fairly universally loved one (in principle anyway!)
The word 平和 ai could be considered a fairly close equivalent of our English word “peace”, in it’s “world peace 4 eva” sense.
That being said, it has very different meanings to the other meanings that we associate with the word in English. You wouldn’t use the word to talk about “inner peace” or having a “peaceful” state of mind or someone being “at peace”.
You would need different words for this in Japanese – we’ll go through that below.
Can peace be represented in one Japanese symbol?
The short answer for that is “not really”.
You could, for example, take either of the kanji symbols from 平和 and use them alone to get a sense of the idea of “peace”. But you also get a whole lot of different meanings that go along with them – many of which there is a high likelihood that you wouldn’t want.
So, took look at the meaning of each:
This kanji has meanings of
Flat, broad, palm of hand.
Common, ordinary, mundane
low-ranking; novice, freshman.
It is used in words like:
公平 (kohei) fair
平気 (heiki) no sweat, too easy, I don’t mind
It has the sense of implying equality, uniformity and standardization.
So if you were to get a tattoo of this one, you would be pretty much telling the world that you are somehow “run of the mill”. This may suit some, but probably not many.
All-in-all, this Chinese character has more positive connotations than 平.
和 has meanings of peacefulness, harmony, people getting along and working well together.
But, once again, it also has other meanings attached to it:
Probably the most common use for 和 is connoting that something is Japanese. There are many words that are wa-something. Probably the most famous example in the English speaking world is 和牛 (wagyu), with the “wa” meaning Japanese and the “gyu” meaning beef. There are a lot of other words though, including:
和食 (washoku) Japanese food.
和風 (wafu) Japanese style
和訳 (wayaku) Japanese translation
So, if you get a tattoo of 和, aside from promoting the idea of “peace and harmony”, you are also promoting the idea of Japan. This interpretation in a tattoo context is probably less likely, but the potential is there.
Other words that get used to describe “Peace” in Japan
So the idea of peace and peacefulness is really intrinsically bound up with culture.
So, for example, we have the idea of RIP, Rest In Peace, describing our cultural belief that people will find eternal rest when they die. It is an idea that sits well with a conception of a heaven above on billowy clouds.
Contrast this with a worldview that sees death as just one stop in an infinite, or close to infinite, cycle of rebirth. In this context, a word that might describe something like “peace” in a different language will have a whole set of connotations, nuances and cultural reverberances.
Similarly, several of the words that equate with concepts of “peace” or “peacefulness” are bound up with Buddhist concepts of enlightenment and escape from suffering. “Tranquility” is perhaps a closer analogue in English.
Given that we have said that often it is better to find a word that makes sense, literally and culturally, in Japanese than it is to try and “force” an English word to become Japanese in literal translation it is worth considering some of the following options if you are looking for a Japanese symbol for peace design.
Meanings: harmony; peace; completeness; satisfied; having integrity.
The word “Enman” has the sense of something being in complete harmony. It is often used to describe things like couples, households or relationships generally.
For this reason, 円満 is also a pretty good choice for people that value family highly, along with a sense of harmony.
Enman also has Buddhist connotations. It is a word used to describe the state of having accumulated enough “merit” or “virtue” (功徳 kudoku) to achieve a higher level of being.
Enman example sentences
A peaceful household.
The dispute was amicably settled.
We were really in a spot there, so thanks for helping us reach a harmonious conclusion.
I wish I knew the secret of a happy couple.
Meaning: peaceful; tranquil; calm; restful
The Chinese character 安 (an) means peaceful or safe, but usually only fully expresses these meanings in combination with other characters in Japanese.
Interestingly, the two parts that make up the character mean “house” and “woman”. Why a woman in a house equates to the meaning of safety or peacefulness, I will leave you the reader to interpret.
Words that feature the character 安 include:
安静 (ansei) rest; quiet
安心 (anshin) feel safe, feel relieved
安全 (anzen) safety
安静 (ansei) restful, quiet
安 can become an adjective in the word 安らか yasuraka.
Yasuraka uses a combination of Kanji 安 and Hiragana script らか to form an adjective that is distinctively Japanese sounding, with little connection to any word of Chinese origin. It is a word which describes the state of something being “peaceful”. It is probably the most common adjective, for example, for people to describe a person “passing away peacefully” in death.
My father passed away peacefully last night.
A peaceful conscience makes for a peaceful sleep.
Even if my life wasn’t happy, it was certainly tranquil.
Being bound in body and spirit by this, day or night, I found no rest.
It is also worth noting that the character 安 in Japanese also means “cheap”. It is used as an adjective in the form 安い (yasui), which is the common word used to describe something as cheap or inexpensive.
Luckily, the word cheap doesn’t have the same double meanings that it does in English as when describing a person who doesn’t like to spend money or is overly frugal. Japanese has other words to describe that.
It is also a kanji that forms half of the word 極楽 (gokuraku) which is a word often used in Japan as a rough equivalent of “paradise” or “heaven”.
Strictly speaking the term refers to a “pure land” from buddhism philosophy called Sukhavati. It is associated with the Buddha Amitābha. Known as the “Western Pure Land” or the “Western Paradise”, it is a hugely popular conceptual place throughout Southeast Asia.
極 by itself has meanings that include:
Extreme, climactic, culmination or zenith.
楽 raku has a wide range of meanings, all of them associated with some element of pleasure. So it can mean:
Comfort, ease, music, fun.
So together these characters give the sense of “absolute comfort”, or, indeed the feeling of being completely at peace.
How is Peace expressed in chinese?
The word used in Japanese for peace, 平和 heiwa is also used in China but pronounced in mandarin as Hépíng.
How popular is the Japanese symbol for peace as a tattoo?
The kanji 平和 heiwa is a moderately popular Chinese character for people to get as a tattoo worldwide.
That being said, the chances of bumping into another person with these characters as a tattoo is pretty low overall.
Are the Chinese characters for “Peace” written the same in Japanese and Chinese?
Yes, the characters for peace are written in the same way in Chinese and Japanese.
So there’s more bang for your buck!
What do the primitive forms of the Chinese character for peace look like?
Chinese characters have evolved over a long period. Sometimes, people like to use Chinese and Japanese words in their primitive form for aesthetic reasons. The historical forms of kanji used in “peace” look like:
Examples of the Kanji for “peace” 平和 in sentences?
A peace-loving people
A peace demonstration
To live in peace
Hopefully this article has given you some confidence in thinking more deeply about what kind of tattoo you want to get and whether a kanji tattoo is the right way to go for you!
We also have an article for you if you want to get an overview of some of the things you should think about when considering a Japanese lettering tattoo.