Japanese Symbol For Wisdom – Read this before getting a tattoo!

You can understand why a word like “Wisdom” would be a popular choice for getting as a tattoo in Japanese calligraphy.

The word wisdom commonly denotes experience, having sound judgment, and discerned actions. While the word is familiar to most people, its uses in various contexts affect its meaning, making it one of the most difficult concepts to define.

While many people confuse wisdom with intelligence and knowledge in English, in the Japanese language they are almost the same. However, those who hone their skills in their craft know well what it truly means to have wisdom.

What is the Japanese symbol for wisdom?

The kanji (Chinese characters) for wisdom that is used in everyday conversation is 


and it is read as chie (ちえ) or sato-i (さと-い) – both are kun-yumi (the Japanese way of reading). Its original Chinese way of reading (On-yumi) is chi (チ). This is why, in some words, this kanji is read as chi rather than chie or sato, especially in words that are directly transferred from the Chinese language.

It is composed of three kanji characters 矢 (Shi) which means arrow, 口 (Kuchi) which means mouth, and the radical 日 (Hi) which means day. So, in a way, it’s almost like having a sharp mouth that pierces anything under the sun!

It is also a very commonly used names for boys in Japanese society. If you have been immersed in Japanese society or culture, especially Anime, you have likely heard of people named Satoshi or anything that has Toshi (智) in it. Such names are as common as Yamada or Tanaka – names you would hear a lot in example sentences in Japanese textbooks.

The dictionary meaning of the kanji 智 is wisdom, intellect, intelligence, knowledge, and reason. 

 Another symbol for Wisdom in Japanese

What is the difference between the Japanese symbols 智 (Chi) and 知 (Shi)?

One kanji you need to watch out for is 知 (Shi). 智 (Chi or Toshi) and 知 (Shi) may seem similar since both have the same combination of kanji with the exception of the symbol 日 (Hi) in 智, they are not exactly the same.

The slight nuance between the two makes a difference. 知 (Shi) is more about the act of knowing (not to confuse with the word learn) while 智 (Chi) is the characteristic of having gained knowledge or experience that makes a person wiser.

The primary meaning of 知 (Shi) is to understand, know, perceive, and comprehend.

While both kanjis (智 and 知)  have a slight difference in meaning individually, they are mostly used interchangeably when combined with other characters to form different words in the Japanese language.  However, generally speaking, people prefer to write 知 as opposed to 智 for practical reasons.

Simply put, 知 is used as the simplified version of 智 when writing multiple kanji but individually, they are used independently.

Additionally, both symbols 智 (Chi) and 知 (Shi) are often paired with other charters –a hiragana or another kanji– in order to form a meaningful word that can be used in a sentence. 

What words is the Japanese symbol for wisdom used in?

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

1.    知恵 Wisdom

2.    知識 – Knowledge/ Information

3.    知性 – Intelligence

4.    英知 – Higher Intellect/Wisdom

1.      知恵  (Chie) – Wisdom

 知恵, pronounced as /Chi-Je/, is the general term used to refer to wisdom in English. It is commonly used in everyday conversation and is highly associated with the Buddhist meaning of wisdom –realizing the true nature of reality and perceiving things how they are. It can also refer to one’s sense or understanding of how things work.

Breaking down the kanji,  恵 is referred to as some sort of enlightenment. This mostly refers to the kind of wisdom and knowledge that you acquire (acquired intelligence).

Alternative writing for 知恵 is 智恵 and 智慧.

Example Sentences For the Japanese word for 知恵 (Chie):


Dole out your wisdom a little at a time.


What he lacked in wit, he made up for in energy.


He is a man of wisdom

2.    知識 (Chishiki) – Knowledge/ Information

知識 (Chishiki) primarily refers to the knowledge that one acquires through experience and education. It is the information that you have learned or can be learned that you can apply to several things. This is a common word that everyday Japanese would use both conversationally and formally.

知識 is not about the application of the information but the information itself as opposed to 知恵 which focuses more on the behavior that is considered “wise”.

Alternative writing for 知識 is 智識.

Example Sentences For the Japanese word for 知識 (Chishiki):


My mother acquired her knowledge of English in the United States.


Students who want to major in physics ought to have a sufficient knowledge of mathematics.


An encyclopedia is a mine of information.


How did she come to know so much about fish?

3.    知性 (Chisei) – Intelligence

Chisei refers to being smart, logical, or having a natural ability to understand things easily. It can also refer to natural intellectual abilities. This is a general type of intelligence as opposed to being a genius (天才).

Some confuse 知性(chisei) with 智力 (chryoku) meaning intelligence or intellectual power.

There is no alternative writing for 知性.

Example Sentences For the Japanese word for 知性 (Chisei):


She has beauty and what passes for intelligence.


Nature endowed him with wit and beauty.


Reading can develop your mind.

4.    英知 (Eichi) – Higher Intellect/Wisdom

英知 (Eichi) –not to confuse with the other eichi (エイチ) meaning Hentai or lewd– refers to the kind of wisdom that is beyond the comprehension of an ordinary individual. It is considered the “higher knowledge” in Buddhism. Think of it as an intergalactic type of knowledge as opposed to 知恵 which is a general type of wisdom. Eichi is more profound and its alternative kanji 叡 is associated with 天 (Tenko) meaning heaven and sky.

While this word relates to some sort of divine enlightenment or wisdom, it also denotes the wisdom that is unique to each person, one that is an individual type of intelligence –a culmination of knowledge from different sources.

One of the meanings of the kanji 英 is a distinguished or outstanding person in the Chinese language. Alternatively, this kanji also means Great Britain or English in Japanese.

Alternative writings are 叡知, 叡智, and 睿智 are all pronounced the same way.

Example Sentences For the Japanese word for 英知 (Eichi):


We should bear in mind what is called wisdom is not a mere item of knowledge.


The more unique each person is, the more he contributes to the wisdom of others.


Without hesitating, the dean selects infinite wisdom.

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

 智 and its alternative writing 知 both mean “wisdom” in the same way in Chinese and Japanese. However, there is a slight difference in its alternative meaning in Chinese.

In Chinese, 智 could also mean “one that is informed” or someone that is intelligent and is commonly used as a surname. While in Japanese, it only means wisdom, intelligence, and knowledge (a non-tangible thing).

It is also pronounced as /zhì/ in Chinese and /Chi/ or /Toshi/ in Japanese.

How to write the Japanese character for “Respect”

There are 12 strokes for the kanji 智 (Chi) and it starts from the upper left then goes to the upper right and then starts again at the middle portion just below the two characters above.

While the kanji for 知 (Shi) has 8 strokes and the order of stroke is as follows:

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’s been a recent debate as to the etymology of the character 智. While 知 has been established as “wisdom”, the radical 日 (Hi) is argued to be 甘 (Kan), meaning “sweet”, by some language enthusiasts.

What is the Japanese concept of wisdom?

Japanese society, especially in this modern times, highly values wisdom and intelligence. While both share the same kanji, they are considered two different things.

Intelligence, for many Japanese, refers to the ability to gather information and solve problems logically, putting aside emotional factors. While wisdom emphasizes more on the importance of harmony and the ability to complete actions towards the chosen goals in life. This means that having wisdom is being able to deal with situations according to personal and social goals in consideration of the people that are/may be involved.

The Japanese prioritize peace in their daily social interactions and that is why they find behaviors that avoid conflicts “wise”.

The Chinese character for wisdom is a popular tattoo mainly because 智 is one of the 5 virtues of Confucianism.

Some westerners would pick 智 as a one-character tattoo in Chinese. However, in Japanese, you might want to pair 智 with other characters in order to create a contextual meaning, thus, the kanji 智 alone may not be as common as a tattoo since there are several variations of “wisdom” in the Chinese and Japanese language.

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

Words relating to wisdom and intelligence are worth considering as a tattoo. Not only does wisdom commands respect, it also denotes experience which most people value. However, it is worth noting that using proper words to convey your real intentions is very important.

The nuances between the variations of the words relating to 智 can change the entire concept of your tattoo. That is why you should consider the type of variation of the word “wisdom” you want permanently marked in your body. Otherwise, it might have the opposite effect on people who can read both Chinese and Japanese.

In a nutshell, embody the wisdom that you want your tattoo to represent, and you could make it work!