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This mini-guide covers the various kanji featured on clothing or other items throughout the series. Aspects listed include what they mean, who wears them, and when. However, this guide will be aimed more at the general English-speaking fan without much Japanese knowledge, so we will not go too in-depth about all the possible connotations or readings of these kanji, and instead stick to only what is relevant to the series. Clicking on each kanji will take you to its Wikitionary page, so if you want you can find more information on them there.
That being said, for anyone without much knowledge of Japanese, a brief lesson on the Japanese writing system will probably help you understand what is going to follow. Basically, written Japanese uses three different scripts. The first is kanji, which are Chinese characters that the Japanese simply adopted for themselves (kanji means “Han characters”). Kanji are ideographic, meaning an individual kanji character represents a particular thing or idea rather than a sound. How you read a kanji out loud can vary according to context, but its meaning will remain unchanged (more or less; language being what it is, a single kanji may have several different but usually related meanings depending on the context). There are countless homophones in Japanese, which are distinguished by what kanji are used to write them.
If that is a little hard to wrap your head around, consider this — probably the closest equivalents to kanji we have in English are Arabic numerals. No matter where they appear, 1 and 2 always represent the same mathematical concepts. However, how they are read can vary greatly. For instance, on their own they are read as “one” and “two”. However, if you are a native English speaker, when you see 1st and 2nd, you don’t need to be told that these are read as “first” and “second” rather than “onest” and “twond”. When you stick 1 and 2 together to form 12, you know that this is read as “twelve” and not “onetwo”. Kanji work in a very similar way, with there being different ways of reading the same characters which any adult native Japanese speaker knows instinctively.
The other two Japanese scripts besides kanji are lumped together as “kana“; hiragana and katakana. In contrast to kanji, each hiragana or katakana character represents a specific sound but has no inherent meaning, similar to alphabet letters. Both kana scripts cover all of the Japanese syllables on their own. Basically, for every hiragana character, there is a corresponding katakana one, and vice-versa. It is sort of like capital and lower case letters in English — G and g both represent the same sound(s), but you use one or the other depending on the circumstances. However, the ways in which hiragana and katakana are used are not very similar to how capital and lower case are used in English, so do not take that analogy too far. In short, katakana is reserved for writing foreign words, some slang, sound effects, and words you are unfamiliar with or want emphasized, whereas hiragana is used for everything else.
These kanji are presented in no particular order. We tried to arrange them roughly in descending order of importance as far as the series goes, but that can be pretty arbitrary at times. Also, please remember that all of the kana readings listed alongside each kanji character are not necessarily the only possible readings, but rather are those most relevant to the series.
|亀 かめ (Kame)|
Probably the most prominent kanji throughout the series is the one for “turtle”, which is used as a symbol by Kame-Sen’nin (the “Turtle Sage”; 亀/kame means “turtle”). After training under Kame-Sen’nin, Goku, Kuririn, and Yamcha all wear this on both the front and back of their trademark orange Kame-sen School uniforms. In Goku and Kuririn’s case, they make their debut in this getup in chapter 33 at the start of the 21st Tenka’ichi Budōkai, while Yamcha is first seen wearing it starting with the 22nd tournament in chapter 113. Goku goes on to wear this on both sides of his uniform until he trains under Kaiō in the Saiyan arc. Once he completes his training, Kaiō presents him with a new uniform with the turtle kanji on the front but (unbeknownst to Goku) the two kanji for “Kaiō” on the back. He wears it on an identical uniform during his training on the way to Planet Namek, but once he arrives on Namek he abandons it for a new uniform that first appears in chapter 273, which features the 悟 (go) kanji on the front and back. Goku also wears the turtle kanji in Dragon Ball Movie 3 and Dragon Ball Z Movies 1-2, as well as in the Jump Super Anime Tour special.
Kuririn wears the turtle kanji the longest, all the way up through the Cell arc. He is last seen wearing it in chapter 418, but by the time of the Bū arc he has abandoned fighting altogether and no longer wears any martial arts uniform. Meanwhile, Yamcha has a somewhat complicated (or contradictory) history with this kanji. During his training under Kaiō during the Freeza arc, he is shown as still wearing the turtle kanji. In the Artificial Human arc though, starting in chapter 337, he is shown wearing a uniform with the turtle kanji on the back but the two Kaiō kanji on the front, the opposite of Goku’s setup. After getting pierced through the chest by No. 20, he is left with a big hole through that part of the uniform, and so in most shots you cannot even see the kanji there. Starting in chapter 355 though, the kanji on the front of Yamcha’s shirt is now shown as the turtle kanji once again, even though his shirt still has that big hole in it, meaning he did not just change into a new pair of clothes. Yamcha keeps the turtle kanji on both sides of his shirt for the rest of the Cell arc, and like Kuririn simply wears street clothes during the Bū arc. Kuririn is seen wearing the turtle kanji in Dragon Ball Movie 3 and Dragon Ball Z Movies 1-6 plus 9, while Yamcha wears it in Dragon Ball Z Movies 3 and 9. Like Goku, the two return to wearing their old uniforms with the turtle kanji for the Jump Super Anime Tour special.
Besides being worn by Kame-Sen’nin’s pupils, Kame-Sen’nin writes the turtle kanji on a stone which he has Goku and Kuririn search for as part of their training. It also adorns Kame-Sen’nin’s race car on the kanzenban spine art. It should probably be noted that this kanji is not used to write the name of Kame-Sen’nin’s trademark Kamehameha technique, which is written かめはめ波, with the kamehame part written in hiragana, and the final ha written with the kanji for “wave”. This allows for the distinctive way the characters pause between each syllable as they charge the attack. If kame was instead written in kanji form in the manga, you would not be able to space out its two syllables.
In the Western fandom, fans have a tendency to see the turtle kanji as resembling a Z, and of drawing it very much like a Z in fan art. It should be noted that the vertical line that goes through the two square segments should be perfectly straight and bisect the squares, rather than be slanted. Sometimes in the manga and anime it does look a little like the line is slanted or leaning to the left, but this is just a result of having to make countless drawings featuring a fairly elaborate written character, and they do not always turn out so great (other kanji featured in the series suffer a similar fate). However the turtle kanji, when properly written, does not look all that much like a Z, and there is no connection between it and the title “Dragon Ball Z” (which was chosen because Toriyama wanted the series to end soon, and Z, being the last letter of the alphabet, signified “the end”).
|界王 かい おう (Kai Ō)|
The next major kanji featured in the series are used in Kaiō’s emblem, worn by him and some of the characters who train under him. Kaiō basically means “King of Worlds” (界/kai means “world”, and 王/ō means “king”) and Kaiō’s emblem is made up of these two kanji. It is a bit of a departure from the other kanji featured on characters’ clothes, because rather than being a straight-up rendition of the kanji inscribed in a circle, the two kanji are squeezed into each other and the surrounding circle so that the entire thing just looks like one giant pattern. It can be a little hard to distinguish the two kanji from each other if you do not already know what you are looking for.
Besides the North Kaiō, the other three Kaiō of the cardinal directions all wear this same emblem on their shirts, as does the Dai Kaiō (who also wears a unique kanji on his hat, but more on that later). Goku gets a uniform featuring the Kaiō emblem on the back and the turtle kanji on the front after he completes his training under North Kaiō in chapter 212, and wears this same getup until chapter 271 when he arrives on Planet Namek. Goku also wears his Kaiō/Turtle combo uniform in Dragon Ball Z Movie 2. In the Artificial Human arc Yamcha wears the opposite setup, with a small Kaiō emblem on the front and a large turtle kanji on the back. However, as mentioned before, the kanji on the front of his shirt mysteriously switches to being the turtle kanji midway through the story arc, and the last time he is seen with the Kaiō emblem is chapter 343.
|悟 ご (Go)|
This kanji means something along the lines of “to perceive”, “to understand”, or “to be aware of”, and is used to write the go in Goku, Gohan, and Goten’s names. This ties straight back to the Chinese fantasy novel Journey to the West, which Dragon Ball is very loosely based on. In that story, the Monkey King starts studying under a Taoist mystic, who gives him the religious name “Sun Wukong” (孫悟空), with Sun (孫) being a family name and Wukong (悟空) meaning “aware of emptiness”. The Japanese reading for this name is Son Gokū, which is where Dragon Ball‘s protagonist gets his name.
In the story, Goku starts wearing this kanji on the front and back of his uniform once he finishes up his intense high gravity training while journeying to Planet Namek, starting in chapter 273. While Goku had previously worn kanji signifying the different masters he trained under, the fact that at this point he wears one of the kanji used to write his own name probably symbolizes that he now considers himself his own master, or at least that he is self-taught. Goku only wears this kanji during the Freeza arc, and starting in the Artificial Human arc he wears a kanji-free uniform for the rest of the series. His shirt is torn up by the time he finally becomes a Super Saiyan, but a picture of Super Saiyan Goku wearing an intact version of this uniform with the kanji visible is featured on the title page of chapter 329. In the anime, Goku also wears this kanji in Dragon Ball Z Movies 3-5.
Outside of the story, Goku is first shown wearing the kanji of go in the title page of chapter 125, which features him and Kuririn racing on fantasy vehicles. Both Goku’s shirt and vehicle are emblazoned with this kanji. Gohan is also shown wearing a shirt with this kanji in chapter 229’s title page. In GT as well, Gohan wears a version of the classic orange Kame-sen School uniform with this kanji written on it during the Evil Dragons storyline.
|孫 そん (Son)|
This is the kanji used to write the family name for Goku and his family, “Son”. Besides being a real family name, it also means “grandchild” or “descendant”. When used to mean “grandchild”, it is read as mago (Pan, for instance, is said to be Satan’s mago in the series), and this is how the tournament announcer misreads it during the 21st Tenka’ichi Budōkai when he calls Goku “Mago Gosora” to everyone’s confusion. As has been mentioned, the name “Son Goku” is taken from the protagonist of Journey to the West, where the Monkey King is given the name Sun Wukong (the Chinese version of the name) from his religious instructor. “Wukong” (“aware of emptiness”) has religious significance, but the Monkey King’s master chose Sun (孫) as his family name due to its similarity to Sun(猻), meaning “monkey”. As you can see, 猻 (“monkey”) has the same reading as 孫 (“grandchild”), but the former is written by taking the latter and adding on the radical for “dog” to the left-hand side.In the series, when Gohan is introduced in chapter 196 he has the kanji written on his coat. In the main series, Gohan ditches the coat in chapter 207 when he starts his wilderness survival training, but he is shown wearing it again in Dragon Ball Z Movies 1 and 4. He is also shown wearing it on his hat on the title page to chapter 207, an image that was reused for the first Dragon Ball Z closing animation.
|飯 はん (Han)|
This kanji signifies “rice”, and by extension meals in general. It is used to write the han in “Gohan”, since his name is a pun on the Japanese word ご飯 (gohan), meaning rice or just any kind of meal. In this instance, the ご (go) is just an honorific, and for Gohan’s name is replaced with the kanji 悟 (go) which is covered above. The grown-up Gohan from Trunks’ alternate future wears this on the back of his dōgi during both the manga and anime versions of the Trunks side-story, although the front of his dōgi does not feature any kanji.
|鶴 つる (Tsuru)|
This kanji means “crane”, and is worn by Tsuru-Sen’nin (“Crane Sage”, 鶴/tsuru means “crane”) and his pupils Tenshinhan and Chiaotzu, who all wear it when they first appear in chapter 113 at the start of the 22nd Tenka’ichi Budōkai. Tenshinhan takes off his large Tsuru-sen School coat to fight in the tournament, but puts it back on after the tournament wraps up, although by then he has renounced Tsuru-Sen’nin as his master. He is last seen wearing it in chapter 136 during the very beginning of the Piccolo Daimaō storyline, and when he is later seen at Kame House as the gang plots their next move against Piccolo, he is wearing a plain white shirt. Meanwhile, Chiaotzu wears his coat with the crane kanji throughout the entire 22nd Tenka’ichi Budōkai and Piccolo storylines. When he and Tenshinhan next appear at the 23rd Tenka’ichi Budōkai, they are both wearing clothes marked with kanji taken from their own names.
|殺 さつ (Satsu)|
This is the kanji for “kill”, and it is worn appropriately enough by the assassin Tao Pai-pai. He has this written on the front of his shirt and “kill you!” written in English on the back. The kanji 殺 (satsu) is used in words like 殺し屋 (koroshiya), “assassin”, 殺害 (satsugai), “murder”, or 必殺技 (hissatsu waza), literally a “sure-to-kill technique”, but in practice is any trademark attack used by a character, such as the Kamehameha or Tao Pai-pai’s Dodonpa.
|天 てん (Ten)|
This is the kanji for “heaven”, both in the sense of the abode of the gods, and of simply the sky. It is the first kanji in Tenshinhan’s name, and so he is seen wearing it briefly when he shows up for the 23rd Tenka’ichi Budōkai in chapter 166 in place of the crane kanji, probably to signify that he is no longer Tsuru-Sen’nin’s pupil. Tenshinhan takes this outfit off to fight in the tournament though, and he is never seen wearing this kanji again.
In the anime filler during the Great Saiyaman storyline, Goten is shown having this kanji written on his pajamas and other possessions in his room in Dragon Ball Z episode 202 as he cheers on Gohan who is trying out various Great Saiyaman poses. This is because the same kanji used in Tenshinhan’s name is also used to write the “ten” in Goten’s name.
|餃 ぎょう (Gyō)|
This kanji stands for gyouza dumplings, Chiaotzu’s namesake. The dumplings and Chiaotzu’s name are both written 餃子 (子/ko literally means “child” but is included in the names of anything small, like dumplings in this case); the Japanese reading of these kanji is gyouza while the Chinese one is jiǎozi. “Chiaotzu” is a Japanese approximation of the Chinese reading. In the series, Chiaotzu is shown wearing a coat with the kanji 餃 (kou) when he shows up to the 23rd Tenka’ichi Budōkai in chapter 166. Previously he had worn the crane kanji, and this change probably signifies how he has broken away from the Tsuru-sen School. He wears the coat for the rest of that story arc, but is not shown with it afterwards, at least not for the main storyline of the manga. He is however shown wearing it again in the title page of chapter 254. Alternately, during Dragon Ball Z Movie 9, he wears an outfit with his entire name written out on it.
|神 かみ (Kami)|
This is the kanji for “god” or “spirit”. Appropriately enough, in the series it is worn on the robe of the “God of Earth” (地球の神/Chikyū no Kami). It has also seen written on the pot containing the “Super God Water” (超神水/Chō-Shinsui). In the anime, the Goku doll which Mister Popo brings to life in Dragon Ball episode 130 has this kanji written on his clothes in place of Goku’s turtle kanji. However, for whatever reason, neither Goku nor any of the other warriors of Earth who train under God take up wearing this kanji. Once Dende takes over as the new God of Earth, in his first Boo arc appearance in chapter 426 he is seen wearing robes identical to what the old God wore, including this kanji, but for all his later appearances he reverts to wearing the same outfit he had as a child. Dende also wears this kanji as part of his outfit as God of Earth in Dragon Ball Z Movie 6, though you cannot see much of it in the frame.
|魔 ま (Ma)|
On the exact opposite end of the spectrum from kami, this kanji stands for all things demonic, and by extension to magic. In the series it is used as the logo for Piccolo Daimaō (大魔王/daimaō means “great demon king”), first appearing in chapter 135. Not only does Piccolo wear this on his robe and shirt, but he also has his underling Tambourine leave pieces of paper inscribed with it behind at the scenes of his crimes, sort of as a calling card. Piccolo even has this inscribed on the lottery box he uses to determine which city he will destroy first in commemoration of becoming king of Earth. On the other hand, Piccolo’s reincarnation Ma Junior never wears this kanji. However, when he trains Gohan he gives Gohan a uniform just like the one Goku wears, only with the demon kanji in place of the turtle kanji. Gohan wears this uniform after his old clothes get ripped to shreds when he transforms into an Ōzaru in chapter 208, and is last seen in it during chapter 211. Afterwards he switches to a kanji-free purple outfit modeled after Piccolo’s own clothes.
In addition to the proper kanji for “demon”, in the anime a group of young hoodlums try to act as Piccolo Daimaō’s underlings during his brief reign as king of Earth, but since they are not so good at writing kanji they have to settle for making clothes marked with ま and マ, the hiragana and katakana characters for ma. The electric jar and small bottle used in conjunction with the Mafūba technique are also inscribed with the phrase “great demon king seal” (大魔王封じ/Daimaō-fūji).
|楽 らく (Raku)|
This is the kanji for “comfort”, “ease”, or even “music”. It is worn by Yamcha from the time he first appears in chapter 7 up until 112, at which point he starts training under Kame-Sen’nin and wears the Kame-sen School uniform from then on. He is also shown having a big picture of this kanji hanging up on the wall of his room in West City in chapter 93. In the Dragon Ball: Adventure Special guide book, Toriyama says that Yamcha wears this kanji because he likes things nice and easy.
|武 む (Mu) / ぶ (Bu)|
This kanji stands for all things martial. For instance, it is used to write the bu in budoukai (武道/budō means “the martial arts”), and so it is seen written on boards around the Tenka’ichi Budōkai grounds. It is also used to write the mu in Mutaito (which roughly translates to “great sage of the martial arts”), so he and his pupils all wear it. In flashbacks in both the manga and anime, we see that both Kame-Sen’nin and Tsuru-Sen’nin wore this when they were young men training under Mutaito, as first seen in chapter 135.
|烏龍 ウーロン (Ūron)|
On their own, these two kanji mean “crow” and “dragon”, respectively. However, together they are used to write Oolong tea, namesake of everyone’s favorite shape-shifting pig. In this case karasu (烏) does not mean “crow”, but instead means “black” (via the color of the crow’s feathers), and so the name means “black dragon”. In the series, Oolong’s actual name is written in katakana, but he does have these kanji written on all his stuff, including his lair and house-wagon.
|根性 こんじょう (Konjō)|
These are the kanji used to write the word konjō, meaning “guts” or “will-power”. Oolong has this written on his chest when he transforms into a giant robot to try and scare Goku in chapter 6. The idea may be to convince everyone that he is brave and ballsy, which of course he is not. As befitting his shape-shifting nature, the kanji on his chest change with his emotions. When he accidentally slips his finger into his hot soup, they change to netsu (熱), meaning “heat”, while when the village boy nails him in the head with his slingshot, they change to tsū (痛), meaning “pain”.
|炒饭 チャーハン (Chāhan)|
These are the characters used to write “fried rice” (chǎofàn in Chinese). To be exact, this is actually the modern simplified Chinese way of writing these characters, and the traditional way is 炒飯, which is how they are still written in Japanese. Pilaf has these written on his coat. Technically speaking rice pilaf is not the same thing as fried rice, but it may just be that Toriyama figured this was close enough.
|兎 ト・うさぎ (To / Usagi)|
This is the kanji for “rabbit”, and as you might expect it is used to write the name of the Carrotizor Bunny (兎人参化/Toninjinka), the villain of chapters 16 and 17. The world’s wickedest rabbit has this written on his clothes and personal car, while his underlings wear it on their armbands.
|牛 ギュウ・うし (Gyū / Ushi)|
This is the kanji for “ox”, “cow”, or “bull”. It is used to write the name of Gyūmaō (牛魔王/Gyūmaō means “Ox Demon King”). Gyūmaō starts wearing this on his hat after he switches over to his “grandpa” character design in the Saiyan arc, first seen in chapter 209. He is last seen wearing it in the Freeza arc in chapter 310, and by the time he reappears in the Bū arc it is no longer seen on his hat except in a few random panels. In the anime, Gyūmaō appears with his gyū (牛) hat a little earlier in the story, during the Mt. Frypan filler arc at the end of the first Dragon Ball anime series, starting in episode 149.
|閻 えん (En)|
This is one of the kanji used to write Enma-daiō‘s name, together with the previously featured demon kanji, ma (魔). He wears the 閻 (en) kanji on his hat, in a similar fashion to Gyūmaō. In addition, Enma’s daiou (大王) title means the “great king.” En (閻) itself means “town gate”, so “Enma” means… “demon at the gate” — the thing is that “Enma” derives originally from the Hindu deity Yama, judge of the dead. Yama became a deity in Buddhism as well, and in this form belief in him spread to China and eventually Japan. When the Chinese needed characters to write his name with, they basically just picked whichever ones matched the sounds in his name (or the closest Chinese equivalents), with meaning being a secondary concern. Doing this, they came up with 閻魔 (*yem’ma in Middle Chinese, yánmó in modern Mandarin). This came into Japanese as-is with an approximation of the Chinese pronunciation, as ゑんま ( wenma / yenma) and eventually simplified to the enma pronunciation used today. “Yama” itself is thought to have perhaps originally meant “twin”, as he sometimes appears with his twin sister “Yami”.
This actually is not a kanji character, but rather the hiragana character for su. Suppaman wears this as part of his costume. A clear parody of Superman, Suppaman’s su (す) takes the place of the “S” in the famous Superman logo. “Suppa” comes from suppai, Japanese for “sour”, and so Suppaman constantly sucks on lemons. Suppaman is a Dr. Slump character that appears in chapter 82 during the Dragon Ball and Dr. Slump crossover.
This one can be interpreted either as the kanji character for the number “8”, or the katakana character for “ha”. It is worn by Grandma Hakkake in episode 151 during the Mt. Frypan filler arc at the end of the first Dragon Ball anime series. Hakkake most directly means “Eight Trigrams”, and the Furnace of Eight Trigrams (which also played a role in the original Journey to the West) just so happens to be Goku and Chi-Chi’s ultimate destination for the arc. In the context of the character, however, it also appears to be a play on ha ga kakeru, meaning to have teeth broken or missing.
|勝 しょう (Shou)|
This is the kanji for “victory”. Several random background characters can be seen wearing it during the various Tenka’ichi Budōkai preliminaries, such as in chapter 33. Sadly, wearing this kanji does not seem to have boosted their luck any.
|寿 ことぶき (Kotobuki)|
This kanji signifies “longevity”, “celebration”, or “felicitation”. It is written on the side of the car which Gyūmaō gives to Bulma and company in chapter 15. It is also written on the door of Goku and Chi-Chi’s house (in the manga first clearly shown in chapter 356) as well as the door of adult Gohan’s house, as seen near the end of the series in chapter 517. It was also written on the “Harley with legs” Goku is shown riding in picture #140 in Daizenshuu 1, which Toriyama identified at the time as the only one of his illustrations he was fully pleased with.
|福 ふく (Fuku)|
This kanji stands for “happiness” or “good fortune”. It is written on the doors of Grandpa Gohan’s house, as seen in chapter 1.
|金 きん (Kin)||銀 ぎん (Gin)|
These are the kanji for “gold” and “silver”, respectively. They are worn by the thugs Kinkaku and Ginkaku from Dragon Ball episode 79. Kinkaku means “Gold Horn” and Ginkaku is “Silver Horn”. The two are named after a pair of demons from Journey to the West.
|大 だい (Dai)|
This kanjimeans “great” or “grand”, and is worn by the Dai Kaiō, the “Great King of Worlds”. The Dai Kaiō wears the Kaiō emblem on his shirt like all the other Kaiō, but in addition he wears the “great” kanji on his hat. That is how he dresses on formal occasions, anyway; normally he just dresses like some kind of hipster cowboy. The Dai Kaiō first appears in his formal attire in Dragon Ball Z episode 196.
|栗 くり (Kuri)|
This is the kanji for the Japanese chestnut, kuri, one of the things Kuririn’s name is a pun on. As such, it is seen on Kuririn’s bike in the title page for chapter 125.
|食 しょく (Shoku)|
This kanji appears on Yajirobe’s motorcycle, featured in chapter 140’s title page. It means “to eat” or “meal”, which is apporpriate for the character.
|平和 へいわ (Heiwa)|
These two kanji together make up “peace” (heiwa in Japanese). They are written on the bib of the baby Pinfu from Dragon Ball episode 82. This may be in part due to “Pinfu” being a Japanese approximation of pínghé, the Mandarin reading of those characters.
|功夫 カンフー (Kanfū)|
These are the kanji for “kung-fu”. They are worn by the very imaginatively named Kung-Fun from Dragon Ball Z Movie 9. However, although this character was actually given a name and even received a full character design featuring these kanji (as printed in Daizenshū 6), he never actually appears in the movie. He is only shown on the tournament board that features the semi-finalists.
|祝 いわい (Iwai)|
This kanji stands for “celebration” or “to congratulate”. Kame-Sen’nin has it written across the back of his cloak on the title page of chapter 107, to celebrate the manga concluding its second year of serialization.