Japanese Symbol For Darkness – should you get it as a tattoo?

Interestingly, a lot of people are drawn to the concept of darkness. While many associate “darkness” with something bad or evil, some find the concept holds some kind of comforting allure.

Two characteristics that many people like about the concept of darkness are its mysteriousness and boldness. To wear dark colors, particularly the color black, is to tacitly state that you are on the yang side of ying. Or is that ying side of yang? Anyway, you get my drift.

People also like darkness because they may want to be actively perceived as “one that is misunderstood”, which holds its own allure. It gives off the feeling of something more than meets the eye. 

Just think of all the anti-hero characters in comics and manga adored by fans; DC’s Batman, Marvel’s Deadpool, Naruto’s Itachi Uchiha, Lelouch Vi Britannia of Code Geas, and Eren Yeager of Attack on Titans.

Darkness itself has plenty of negative connotations in many cultures including – Japanese culture. The Japanese relate darkness to negative emotions such as sadness, revenge, lonesomeness, and indeed, even death.

For most cultures, darkness represents the obstacles and struggles that people need to overcome. Knowing that everyone deals with it in everyday life—not just yourself—is somewhat comforting to some people. Overcoming your darkness can make you feel empowered.  Many people have a love-hate relationship with the concept of darkness.

What is the Japanese symbol for darkness? 

The kanji (Chinese character) for darkness is 闇 and its Kun-yumi (Japanese reading) is Yami (やみ). This kanji is primarily composed of 3 basic characters: 立 meaning “to stand”,  日 meaning “day/sun”, and 門 meaning “gate”.

This kanji refers to the figurative type of darkness relating to life and death, good and evil, disorder, and questionable behavior. Its dictionary meaning is darkness, the dark, bewilderment, despair, hopelessness, hidden place, secrecy, oblivion, black market, shady trading, underhand transactions, and illegal channels.

Another Kanji for Darkness

There is another kanji for darkness, and is exceedingly similar to the first. The character is 暗 and it is read as Kura-i (くら-い). It mostly refers to the physical type of darkness where there is a lack of light or brightness. While it refers to the absence of light, it is separate from the word “shadow” or the color black. However, in sentences where this character for darkness is used, it’s sometimes referred to as the blackness of the dark and the darkness of the shadow itself.

This kanji doesn’t mean pitch black darkness but it can be referred to as “dim” in English.

What words is the Japanese symbol for Darkness used in?

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

1.    暗闇 – Darkness

2.    闇夜 – The dark night

3.    闇者 – Prostitute/Imposter/Trickster

4.    暗殺者 – Assassin

1.      暗闇 (Kurayami) – Darkness

 暗闇, pronounced as /Kura-Yami/, is the general term used to refer to the darkness in the absence of light. Breaking down the kanji, 暗(Kura) literally means dark (lacking light) and 闇 (Yami) means dark, gloom, disorder. So two kanjis for darkness –one is literal and the other is figurative—put together is equivalent to darkness without light where crazy things could exist.

Close your eyes, that darkness you see is what is referred to as Kurayami.

Example Sentences For the Japanese word for 暗闇 (Kurayami):


A tiny object moved in the dark.


Cats can see in the dark.


Can you see in the darkness of the night?


She’s afraid of the dark.

2.      闇夜 (Anya/Yamiyo) – The dark night

闇夜 read as /An.Ya/ is a common word that refers to the natural darkness of the night. And no, it has nothing to do with Batman. Its kanji is basically dark (闇) and evening (夜).

Its alternate writing is 暗夜 and it is read as /Yamiyo/.

Example Sentences For the Japanese word for 闇夜 (Anya):


It was a dark night, with no moon


It was a dark night.

3.      闇者 (Kuramono) – Prostitute/Imposter/Trickster

闇者 read as / Kura.mono / is a word that you would often hear in anime and it refers to prostitutes, frauds, imposters, or tricksters. The word literally means a person of darkness (not related to demons). It refers to the fact that prostitutes and petty criminals hide in the shadows of the urban area where ordinary people don’t usually go. Furthermore, these people are part of the darkness that lives within society.

Its kanji is composed of darkness (闇)  and person (者), thus, a person of darkness. This word was regularly used in an old era and is often used in inappropriate sentences.

Its alternate writing is 暗者.

Example Sentence For the Japanese word for 暗殺者 (Kuramono):


However, much effort is being put in to stop the activities of the dark ones from interfering with your release from them.

4.      暗殺者 (Ansatsusha) – Assassin

暗殺者 read as /Ansatsusha/ and it is composed of the kanjis 暗 (An) meaning darkness, 殺 (Satsu) mostly referred to as the character for “kill”, “murder”, “butcher”, and even “slice off”, and 者 (Sha) means person. Basically, an Ansatsusha is a killer that hides in the shadows, thus, an assassin.

There is no alternate writing for 暗殺者

Example Sentences For the Japanese word for 暗殺者 (Ansatsusha):


A fingerprint left by the assassin.

私はニキータに 暗殺者の烙印を押したい。

I want Nikita branded a killer for the whole world to see.


The assassin‘s alias was Cain.

そして、何のニュース あなたの小さな暗殺者から?

And what news from your little assassin?

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

The meaning of the symbol 闇  in Chinese, read as /àn/ or /yan/ in Mandarin, is “to close the door”, the dusk, evening, and the eclipse. While in Japanese, 闇 has a primary definition of “darkness”.

The alternate writing for 闇 in Chinese is 暗 –pronounced the same as 闇.  However, the meaning for 暗 is a lot closer to its Japanese counterpart: darkness, secret, covert, and ignorant.

Technically speaking, the proper character for “darkness” in Chinese is actually 黑, read as /hēi/. The dictionary meaning of 黑 is black, dark, and lacking light.

How to write the Japanese character for “Darkness”

There are 17 strokes for the kanji 闇 (Yami) and it starts from the left then goes to the right and then starts again at the middle portion right in the middle of the character 門.

Its alternate kanji 暗 (kura) has 13 strokes and it starts with the first symbol on the left, followed by the character on the upper right, and finally, the lower right.

Remember that stroke direction when writing kanji is from left to right and top to bottom.

Historical versions of the Japanese symbol for darkness

The character symbol for the Japanese “darkness” was first found in scriptures written in the Ming Dynasty in China. And although it looks a little different, the same character was later found again in the scriptures written in the Han dynasty.

On the hand, the character 暗 (kura) was found mostly in the Han Dynasty.

Originally, both kanjis were two considered as two separate words but eventually used interchangeably to substitute for each other as they went through changes in everyday use.

What is the Japanese concept of darkness?

The concept of darkness is perceived a little differently in the Japanese context. For the most part, darkness is related to negative emotions. On the other hand, it is also used to describe the personality of a person.

In western society, if a person is characterized as “dark”, they are often looked at as someone dangerous, rude, unpleasant, or evil. However, in Japanese culture, a person characterized as “dark” is often perceived as shy, aloof, pessimistic, and gloomy.

Darkness in Japanese is associated primarily with emotions rather than behavior. Nevertheless, if your prospects are described as “dark”, especially in Shinto fortunes, it often means bad luck.

In the past, we have written about Japanese concepts light and shade, and examples of Japanese lighting. It is pretty rare to see a Japanese designed space bathed in even brightness, and much more common to see an emphasis on shaded areas contrasting with subtle glows and hues.

The Chinese character for “darkness” as a tattoo is not entirely popular in Japanese society especially if you want to tattoo the word 闇者. This is related to the the existence of the Yakuza (the Japanese Mafia), associated with syndicated crime.

Until very recently, having a tattoo has still been frowned upon in many parts of Japan, especially in highly conservative areas, and putting the symbol of “darkness” can easily catch the attention of the locals.

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

The word darkness itself denotes plenty of negative meanings in most cultures in the world. Having “darkness” done as a tattoo requires serious contemplation.

While the character symbol for darkness is not a bad thing itself, the words associated with such a character symbol can be a little daunting to some conservatives. You must consider the meaning of having “darkness” as a tattoo and do proper research for specific words relating to “darkness” that you would like to represent. 

Interestingly, the character for darkness includes the Japanese symbol for music, which you may want to check out also.


Article by John Salinas.

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