Japanese as I learned it in school, and I think as it is taught in school, is made up of three types of writing (well, two, but we'll treat it as three for now). The first two are alphabetic: hiragana and katakana. All Japanese words can be spelled with hiragana, they are like the English ABC's. They are made up of what we would think of as one consonant and one vowel, (e.g. ka ki ku ke ko, ma mi mu me mo) except for five which are all vowels (a i u e o) and one which is a single consonant (n). Those previous examples are pronounced kah, key, koo, keh, koh and mah, mee, moo, meh, moe. The vowels are pronounced ah, ee, oo, eh, oh. And yes, the consonant is pronounced nn. The katakana alphabet is made up of the same sounds, and the letters often look similar to the hiragana. The katakana alphabet is usually reserved for loan words from other languages, or at least, I have yet to find an exception to that rule. Not all loan words are from English, but many are. Both of these alphabets are referred to as kana, phonetic symbols, which is what I mean when I say it is made up of two types of writing that, initially, are often treated as three; hiragana and katakana are taught separately.
So! With that all in mind, well, first of all you can see why it was so irritating that the writing was all backwards. A kanji with a radical in one place is in a different location in the dictionary than a kanji with that same radical in a different place. But secondly, if you have a high-definition/high-resolution copy of Kimura's tattoos and feel like playing along at home, you can now find a kanji dictionary in your local library or online and try it out for yourself! On to the actual tattoos.
Like I said, I noticed they were backwards when I tried to read the hiragana, the phonetic alphabet part. I've highlighted them here for you, but these are easiest to deal with because they're simple words that can be looked up in a dictionary. Or at least they could, but I suspect those aren't actual words. Japanese words tend to be made up of a kanji which gives the theme or the concept of the action and then one to three hiragana, completing the word. To go back to the examples above, in 'megumareta' only the 'megu' part is rendered as a kanji symbol, and the 'mareta' is spelled out phonetically. Likewise with 'omoiyari' only the 'omo' is rendered in kanji, and the rest is spelled out as 'i-ya-ri.' I suspect the longer strings of Japanese that I've highlighted are verb endings based on my limited vocabulary and my knowledge of grammar, and possibly infinitive verb endings. Practically speaking, it could all be indecipherable without the other kanji.
Both the longer strings of hiragana say the same thing, which is transliterated as 'gotoku.' Out of the other two hiragana that appear (one appears twice) the 'no' is a particle that denotes possession, and I'm not sure what the 'ru' is, it could be several things.
The kanji I was able to decipher:
Out of the first two, the lower one seems to be the kanji for "tongue", in Japanese, setsu. 'Setsu.' In theory this should make the kanji directly above it dragon, which would be ryu 'ryu', but it isn't. I can't actually tell what that first kanji is. I can see what look like the bottom two radicals, the right one of which doesn't look like any radical I can find in my dictionary, but I can't make out the top part.
Then there's a bit I can't decipher, although I can make out the left and therefore likely to be the first drawn radical. Ideally, this would be how I would look it up, by that radical, but I couldn't find anything that looked close enough to my satisfaction in my dictionary. Then there's the hiragana 'no', which is a particle denoting possession. (It does other things as well, but for the moment it looks as though it's indicating possession.) The way it does that is as follows [Noun 1] no [Noun 2] meaning [Noun 2] of [Noun 1]. Assuming the first kanji from the previous paragraph really is a not-in-my-dictionary form of 'dragon', it should read 'dragon' no 'tongue.' Which basically means what we have here is, I think, unknown-noun of unknown-noun. Don't you feel informed? There follows another kanji I can't make out, the letter 'ru', another kanji, and gotoku.
The first kanji in the third column is 'ko' or 'ki' phonetically and as part of a word, individually it is a pronoun that translates to 'onore', and it means 'self' or 'oneself' in the pronoun form. This would be much more helpful if I could read the second kanji, but as it is I can only make out about one and a half radicals. It appears to be the same, however, as the third kanji in the previous column. As a point of interest, when that kanji appears as part of a larger word, the 'ko' or 'ki' syllable is almost always the second syllable in the word, meaning that kanji should come second if it were the 'ko/ki' reading. Since it comes first, I think it actually means the pronoun 'oneself' or implied to be 'myself,' something as a personal marker for the rest of the sentence if not the rest of the tattoo. Then there's another 'ru', then what looks like the fourth kanji down from the previous column, and again with the gotoku.
The first kanji in the fourth column I'm not sure on, but the second one looks like a fairly ugly version of 'rin', which is 'forest.' The next two I know by heart, the first one is 'ka' or 'fire,' and then the last one is 'yama', which is 'mountain.' And for those of you who haven't put together the symbology yet, fire + mountain = volcano. It's Mount Doom, people! Which goes right along with the coins being like the One Ring. Sort of.
And that's about all I've managed to decipher. Now, Japanese is actually my fourth language, fifth if you count Latin, and it's the one I've had the least practice at over the years, so if a fluent speaker would like to take a crack at this or correct my somewhat haphazard explanation, by all means, please do. (Oct 9 2012: One skilled reader already has! Thank you, dear reader!) One final thing I'd like to note about Kimura's tattoos, though, irrespective of language: those are not typical of a yakuza member's tattoos. They might be typical of the Dragon's Tongue, or they might be something that was applied to Kimura as punishment, warning, or reward. Or it might be something entirely different. But you only need do a quick google image search for yakuza tattoos to find a representative sampling of the designs typical of that form of art. It does not involve writing messages in plain Japanese. It involves elaborate mural-like pictures on the body, weaving together historical scenes, persons or legendary figures, and symbolic items, often taking several years and a great deal of money (think, tens of thousands of US Dollars) to complete.
artsiesforever on tumblr writes in:
So, there you have a second possible translation from a more skilled speaker than myself! Thank you, artsiesforever!
Of course, I have no idea what the writers and show staff know of the yakuza or their tattoos, let alone what they might have made up for the purposes of building this Dragon's Tongue organization, so this is all conjecture. It might be that it all means something entirely different. We may never know...