koi tattoos and their meaning

We love real Koi, but the impact of this particular fish on culture can't be denied, so we're going to take a little look at the popularity of Koi tattoos and the meaning behindthe imagery. Koi imagery is a popular choice for tattoos because of the beautiful colours and the symbolic meanings of the fish. So if you are considering investing in a new tattoo, which Koi would best suit the statement that you'd like to make?

The Legend

In Japanese and Chinese culture the Koi is a symbol of strength in adversity. Legend has it that a school of Koi swam up the Yellow River gaining strength as they progressed. Eventually they reached a waterfall. Most were forced to turn back because they couldn't make the jump. Some remained and kept trying to scale the waterfall for a hundred years. Eventually one Koi was successful and to reward his determination, the gods turned him into a beautiful golden dragon. The Koi is also considered to possess exceptional bravery and will await the cut of the Samurai's knife without fear.

Courage and Determination

A Koi tattoo can represent courage or determination or both. It is a good choice if you have overcome an obstacle to reach your goal or if you have completed a transformation. Koi are also associated with prosperity, passion, masculinity and success.

Orientation of the fish

If you're in the midst of a struggle but will not give up or you have overcome your challenges and gained strength form your experience then the Koi in your tattoo should be pointing upwards as if swimming upstream. On the other hand, if you haven't yet found the strength to deal with your challenges and have not achieved your goals then your chosen Koi should be pointing down as if swimming downstream.


Koi carp can be a variety of striking colours and so your choice of colour can bring even deeper meaning to your tattoo. Black - A black Koi is particularly appropriate if you have overcome a major challenge that took you to a dark place. If you have be a victim of drug addiction, an abusive relationship, depression or similar then a black Koi might be the obvious choice for you. In Japan the black Koi is symbolic of the father in the family. Red - The red Koi is symbolic of intense love, power and bravery. If you wish to honour a special relationship or a major achievement in the face of adversity, then a red Koi could feature in your tattoo. A red or orange Koi represents the mother of the family in Japanese culture. Blue - A blue Koi is indicative of masculinity and can also be associated with reproduction. Blue Koi are also associated with peace and tranquillity. Yellow - Yellow and gold Koi are symbols of wealth and so are a great choice of you have achieved financial success in your life and have had to work hard to get it.

Symbolic Combinations

Koi are often combined with other symbols to add further meaning to a tattoo. The yin-yang symbol is a popular choice and represents harmony or opposites coming together to create balance. The inclusion of fire and water also speaks of balance and harmony. A dragon symbolises strength in adversity, overcoming your challenges, exceptional strength and a strong will. It can also mean a rebirth or new beginning. The lotus flower represents beauty that evolves during adversity because in nature the beautiful flowers grow in muddy ponds. If you have a Koi tattoo then we'd love to see it, just leave us a comment with a photo!

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.