Question to Japanese speakers

I just found out a workmate has a kanji tattoo. It is the symbol for ‘long’ - ‘nagai’ or ‘ei’.

She says it means ‘forever’ or ‘eternity’.
Can it be read like that?


Yes, “eternity” is not a wholly inaccurate translation of that character per se. However, I doubt a native speaker would translate that character as “eternity” when asked.

And the other way around “eternity”, as a noun, would probably be written with a second character after that one, read as eien, tokoshie, or perhaps eikyu. I’m not really knowledgeable enough to speak to the nuances.

A native speaker would probably translate the character as meaning a “long time” rather than eternity, but eternity is one of its meanings. The translation’s not as much as a stretch as your post suggests.

Hmmm… For a simple statement of long, or nagai, I normally use 長(い)。

I am not a naturalized speaker, so my speaking is spot-on but my kanji is abysmal still.

For “eternity” i think いつまでも (itsumademo) 永遠に eien ni, are the most normal sounding.

So, the tattoo may get a slightly raised eyebrow, it’s certainly within acceptable usage.

The nagai referred to in the OP is 永い, rather than the more common 長い.

I know, but both can mean “long, or lengthy” Am I wrong?

No, but the two aren’t completely interchangeable. 永い is only used with time. You wouldn’t write 永い道, for example.

分かった。 gotcha. Thanks!

This kanji does not usually mean “eternity” by itself. You have to combine it with other characters, such as 永遠 or 永久

I asked three native Japanese at my office and, unfortunately, no one was really impressed (but please do not pass that along to your coworker. One guy (43 years old) said he wouldn’t call it 格好いい (cool) and another guy (mid 50s) wonders why this kanji and not a “better” one.

The usage of “eternity” is quite different between the languages, and it doesn’t carry the same emotional impact.

So, what is the meaning of ‘Eien’ in Japanese?

That character crops up in lots of Hong Kong company names too, and is usually translated as “Ever”.