Japanese Symbol For Karma


The concept of “Karma” is present in many prominent religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. When you say “Karma,” the first thing that comes to mind is what comes around when you do something good or bad. 

The idea of Karma revolves around the concept that everything we do affects our future. If you do something good, good things will come to you. If you do bad things, then expect that bad things will also come. 

The concept even goes as far as the afterlife. In Buddhism, it is believed that enduring suffering in the current life is rewarded with a better life in the wheel of the reincarnation. Of course, it’s also a matter of circumstance. Just because you are suffering doesn’t mean you will automatically be rewarded. 

The concept of Karma is also taught in Japanese culture; thus, we will learn the Japanese symbols for the concept of Karma in this article. 

What is the Japanese symbol for Karma?

Another representation of Karma in Chinese characters by karma.tattoo.studio

Several words can be translated as “Karma” in the Japanese language. Most of them use different combinations of Kanji (Chinese writing), each with specific meanings. However, only one Kanji is referred to as “Karma” in Japanese the same way as in English. This kanji is gyou (ギョウ).

The kanji 業 (Gyou) holds several meanings in Japanese: it primarily means “skill” but also means “Karma” in some contexts, and even “business,” “company,” or “agency” in others. This Kanji is widely used in several backgrounds; thus, discretion is very important in using such Kanji. 

The kanji 業 (Gyou) has On-Yomi (Chinese reading) gyou (ギョウ) and gou (ゴウ) and a Kun-Yomi (Japanese reading) waza (わざ). However, you will rarely see it used as Waza (わざ). It’s often used as gyo (ギョウ) or gou (ゴウ) in most Japanese words.

When used as Karma related to Buddhism, this Kanji refers to the effects of your previous life on your present. For example, if you have committed atrocities in your previous life, you’ll most likely have plenty of sufferings in your current life. 

On the other hand, when used outside religion and belief contexts, the Kanji is often used to refer to one’s trade, livelihood, and business.  

Another Kanji for Karma

Another kanji that is also referred to as “Karma” in some contexts is 縁. It has an On-Yomi en (エン) and Kun-Yomi fuchi (ふち). Although its dictionary meanings are relation, affinity, edge, and verge, this Kanji is used in some words that mean or relate to the concept of “karma.” 

This Kanji is different from 業 (Gyou) because the kanji 縁 (En) is more about the present action and its relationship to your future self or life. In contrast, 業 (Gyou) is more about the present is the effect of previous actions in the past or previous life. 

Also, this Kanji is only used in fewer words relating to Karma compared to 業 (Gyou). 

What words is the Japanese symbol for Karma used in?

Another option for Karma in Chinese characters

Some common Japanese words that use the Japanese symbol for Karma are:

  1. 宿業 – Past Karma 
  2. 業輪 – Wheel of Karma 
  3. 業因 – Karma 
  4. 偉業 – Great Achievement 

1.      宿業  (Shyukugou) – Past Karma

The Japanese word 宿業 (Shyukugou) is a term that is often only used within the Buddhist faith and rarely used in casual conversations. It refers to the summation of all the bad and good Karma in your past life and sometimes in your early life (in the present). 

The word comprises two Kanjis:  宿, meaning house, home, or dwelling, and 業, meaning Karma. Thus, the word literally means “Where the Karma resides,” which is often in the past. However, the appropriate translation for it would be “The Karma of a previous existence.”

Example Sentences For the Japanese word for 宿業 (Shyukugou):

この論文の著者によれば、この妥協なき懺悔を通して、大行院様 は、日本に対する原爆投下による大虐殺というような恐るべき出来事は、そのような戦争を引きおこした我等自身の宿業にその原因があると、師ならではの 驚くべきご自督の言葉を語っておられます。。

Through in the words of the authors, this “uncompromising confession,” Daigyoin-sama revealed in characteristically striking terms, that such terrifying events as the nuclear holocaust unleashed upon Japan, had their root in “our own inborn karma that caused such a war.”


He was born with unusually big Karma.


The women were set free from Karma by the help of Buddha.


Shiva is destruction God of the Karma.

2.   業輪 (Gourin) – Wheel of Karma

 Another word relating to “Karma” that is very rarely used outside the topic of religion is 業輪 (Gourin). The word consists of two kanjis: 業 meaning Karma and 輪 meaning wheel, thus, the Wheel of Karma. 

It is said that the Wheel of Karma is responsible for one’s current faith. Those destined to face suffering or tribulation will certainly do so through the Wheel of Karma. It determines what kind of life you will have when you are reincarnated based on your actions in your previous life. 

The Wheel of Karma doesn’t determine your future in your next life, but it sets the difficulty of the struggles you will be facing based on your accumulated Karma in the past life. However you will deal with the challenges in your current life will determine the amount of difficulties you will have in the next. Thus, everything is still up to how you act and deal with your struggles. 

Unfortunately, the word 業輪 (Gourin) is such an uncommon word that it’s hard to find example sentences for it. Also, I am not confident enough to use the word in a sentence since it requires a certain level of background in Hinduism and Buddhism to be able to talk about the Wheel of Karma using the Japanese language.    

3.    業因 (Gouin) – Karma

In English, the concept of Karma revolves around the saying, “What goes around, comes around.” This means that something bad will happen to you when you do something bad. If you do something good, something good will also happen to you. 

 業因 (Gouin) is exactly like that. It is the general term for “cause and effect” of one’s actions, similar to the concept of Karma in English. This is a very common word used in and out of Buddhism and everyday conversations. 

The word comprises two kanjis: 業, meaning Karma, and 因, meaning cause, reason, and factor. 

Example Sentences For the Japanese word for 業因 (Gouin):


As karmic cause exists, karmic effect will eventually manifest. Before it manifests, you still have the opportunity to change the flavor of the effect.


All of the virtuous and evil karmic effects that we produce in this lifetime, however, will come to maturity in a future lifetime.

それはすべて過去にした業因のパワーであるため、今の苦楽の果報は停めることができないのである。 ある人が重い病気になった。。

The first thing some people think after falling ill is that they do not want to be ill; they implore for Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche’s blessings to rid them of their cancer cells.

4.    偉業 (Igyou) – Great Achievement

The term 偉業 (Igyou) has nothing to do with Karma. The word actually uses the other meaning of the kanji 業, which is business, livelihood, vacation, and performance. The other Kanji, 偉, means admirable, remarkable, greatness, and famous; thus, the word 偉業 (Igyou) means great achievement or great feat. 

偉業 (Igyou) is a very common word and is often used in daily conversations. 

Example Sentences For the Japanese word for 偉業 (Igyou):


Human beings have achieved a lot more than animals.


Their climbing of Mt. Everest was a great achievement.


The moon landing was a monumental achievement.


We cannot speak too highly of his great achievements.

Is the Japanese symbol for “Karma” the same in Chinese?

 The Chinese language uses the same symbol for “Karma” as in Japanese. It’s not surprising since the concept is borrowed from the Chinese language and religion (Buddhism). However, the modern Chinese language often uses the simplified version of the character 業, pronounced as /yè/. 

The Chinese language’s simplified version of the Kanji for Karma is 业. They also use alternative writing forms in other dialects and social contexts. Here are the forms used in the Chinese language for the kanji 業.

alternative forms𤑽 ancient
𤎸 ancient

How to write the Japanese character for “Karma”

A circle image representing Karma by sam.drive

The Kanji 業 is an N1 level; thus, it has more strokes than your average Kanji, but its stroke order is not that difficult to remember. What you need to watch out for when writing this Kanji is the position of each line and the number of lines it has. 

Gyou has a total of 13 strokes, and its writing stroke starts in the upper middle part. You basically write the Kanji from top to bottom. To help you better visualize the stroke orders, here is a sample stroke for the kanji 業. 

Remember that stroke direction when writing Kanji is from left to right and up to bottom.

Historical versions of the Japanese symbol for respect

There are several versions of the original glyph for the Kanji for Karma. Different dynasties have different forms. The first recording found for this Kanji was during the sequence of political changes in the first half of the Zhou dynasty.

The other glyph is found in the records during the compilation of scripts in the Han dynasty. The final variation is found in scripts written in the Ming dynasty. 

Historical forms of the character 
Western ZhouShuowen Jiezi (compiled in Han)Liushutong (compiled in Ming)
Bronze inscriptionsSmall seal scriptTranscribed ancient scripts

Among all the variations of the glyphs, the one with the most notable difference is the script from the Zhou dynasty. 

What is the Japanese concept of Karma?

“Karma” Written in Japanese Katakana

While the concept of Karma didn’t originate from Japan, the idea is well spread and believed in Japanese cultures and religions. The main source of the spread of the concept of Karma and reincarnation stems from Buddhism. 

While Shintoism and Buddhism are two different belief systems, both shares several values and teachings, one of which is the concept of Karma and reincarnation. 

Japanese believe there are three main varieties of Karma: Mental Karma, Verbal Karma, and Physical Karma. 

Mental Karma refers to Karma as a result of mental activities such as thinking, gaining knowledge, remembering, ignoring, forgetting, and so on. Verbal Karma is accumulated through what one says. And Physical Karma is accumulated through physical activities such as walking, working, sleeping, throwing, etc. All of these have to coincide with each other. Otherwise, one will have contradicting Karma. 

While Karma doesn’t predestine the future of individuals or groups, it plays an important role in carving one’s destiny. While certain conditions are set in the future based on previous actions (in a previous life or current life), free will makes a difference in how we react to such predetermined predicaments.

For instance, using bad circumstances as an excuse to do bad things or react negatively to situations will obviously accumulate bad Karma for the future. However, if you choose to endure and deal with the problem proactively, good Karma will accumulate and, thus, eventually return. 

While many Japanese nowadays don’t believe that much in Karma anymore, the concept is still well embedded in their culture and social interactions. 

Is the Chinese character for “Karma” a popular tattoo?

While there is no evidence suggesting that the Kanji for “Karma” is a popular tattoo, the Kanji is often found on websites that suggest Japanese writing tattoos.

Many people outside Japan are very fascinated by the concept of Karma. The idea that our actions have certain effects on our future and others seems like a good mantra to live by. Having it written in a foreign language makes it even cooler. So, I won’t be surprised if the tattoo for the Kanji of Karma is or will become a popular tattoo. 

Should you get “Karma” done as a tattoo in Japanese writing?

Words relating to Karma are worth considering as a tattoo. Not only does it look cool, but its very meaning is very deep and fascinating. Just remember that if you use the Kanji of Karma, make sure to relate it to words relating to religion and beliefs. Otherwise, it might take on the other meaning of the Kanji: performance, business, industry, and livelihood. 

Also, don’t forget that many kanji words are not synonymous with each other. It would be best if you carefully picked out the right kanji words for you as a tattoo to avoid misunderstanding and regret. It’s best to be familiar with the stuff you ink on your body, so they become a more meaningful form of art.