On January 30 2019, entertainment outlets began reporting that singer Ariana Grande showed off a Japanese character tattoo she believed translated to “seven rings” — and the publicity revealed that the ink actually said “charcoal grill”:
In her grand tradition of getting new ink to mark major life events, Ariana Grande got a new hand tattoo written in Japanese kanji characters to celebrate her new single, “7 Rings.”
But getting a tattoo in a different language — and sometimes even in your own language — can be tricky, which is how she ended up with a tat that reads “small barbecue grill” instead of “7 rings.”
In a photo posted to her Japanese Twitter account (and which has since been deleted from her Instagram), you can see her palm tattoo, which Kotaku has pointed out actually reads “shichirin,” or “small charcoal grill.”
As the excerpt indicates, the quoted outlet attributed their reporting to a separate report by gaming news outlet Kotaku:
To celebrate her newest single “7 Rings,” pop star Ariana Grande got a kanji tattoo. Unfortunately, it’s wrong.
Grande posted a photo of her tattoo. In Japanese, it reads, 七輪 (shichirin). You can see the pic photo (via Grande’s official Japanese Twitter), which has since been deleted from her Instagram.
The kanji character 七 means “seven,” while 輪 means “hoop,” “circle,” “ring,” or “wheel.” However, when you put them together, the meaning is different! 七輪 (shichirin) is a “small charcoal grill” and not “seven rings,” which is written differently in Japanese … In the video, it’s correctly written as 七つの指輪 (nanantsu no yubiwa) or “seven rings.” It’s a shame she didn’t show that text to her tattooer.
The article concluded:
How did this tattoo mistake happen? In a now deleted reply, Grande wrote, that she “left out ‘つの指’ which should have gone in between,” thus shortening the correct 七つの指輪 (seven rings) to 七輪 (small charcoal grill.” Whoops!
Needless to say, the purported misstep was widely covered — but most of the coverage reiterated other organizations’ claims without adding context to the discussion and presumed that most of the people composing pieces about Ariana Grande’s “grill” tattoo did not, in fact, speak or read Japanese themselves. Many linked to a verified Twitter account in Japanese, which was described as “Universal International’s Ariana Grande Japan version Official Twitter.”
The tweet linked above included an image of the two characters on Grande’s hand, but translated responses to the image did not seem to offer any smoking-gun evidence that the characters were firmly stating “small charcoal grill.” It should also be noted that the tweet rendered both in its original Japanese and offered an automatic translation. Those appeared as follows:
「七つの指輪」を略して「七輪」かな[emoji, emoji]とても気に入っているよう[ring emoji]
[from Instagram] Ariana also added Japanese tattoo!
This time, “seven-wheeled” in Kanji [emoji], “Everybody thinks this is not my hand, but it really is my hand 🥺” comments. “Seven rings” for short “seven-wheeled” or [emoji, emoji]like [ring emoji] #アリアナ a very favorite
One element of the story is that its central claim (an American obtaining a tattoo with Chinese or Japanese characters) has long been the subject of urban legend-like tales of Western ignorance. Did Grande somehow miss the long-circulating claims about such an error and make it herself? And did her Japanese-speaking Twitter account somehow miss this mistranslation when they shared the photograph of her new ink?
Ariana Grande’s new tattoo “七輪” means Japanese style bbq grill, not 7 rings. [crying emoji] If you want to know about 七輪, just google “SHICHIRIN”
A since-deleted tweet attributed to Grande in response was included in articles about the exchange, and another response from a different person:
indeed, i left out “つの指” which should have gone in between. it hurt like fuck n still looks tight. i wouldn’t have lasted one more symbol lmao. but this spot also peels a ton and won’t last so if i miss it enough, i’ll suffer thru the whole thing next time. [emojis]
okay quick rundown: japanese kanji uses traditional chinese characters for its writing system and they share many similar though not all the same meanings. they are pronounced completely differently because the two languages are different.
A number of outlets drew from one initial report and social media chatter to declare that Ariana Grande’s “seven rings” tattoo actually meant “small charcoal grill.” Speakers of both Chinese and Japanese added their own input to the debate, with some initially stating as such. Others said that the flexibility of the characters involved was such that the tattoo was not expressly wrong, and there was no agreement among first-hand translators about whether the tattoo was definitively incorrect or possibly partially or fully correct.
We have reached out to translators about Grande’s “seven rings” tattoo, but have not yet received a response.