Koi Fish Tattoos

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Koi fish tattoo with heart and bubbles

Koi fish tattoos are as varied and as popular as the animal they represent. Koi tattoo designs are often combined with splashing water, cherry blossom and lotus flowers.

Koi fish are a species of carp (Koi is the Japanese word for carp) that are specially bred to have wild, brilliant color schemes. Originally a ravenous pet species that stirred up silt in waterways, the Japanese have inbred them and turned them into gemlike marvels.

The general symbolic meaning of koi and koi tattoos is good luck. Interestingly, the Japanese assign different symbolic meanings to the fish depending upon the way it behaves, either in the pond or in the wild. The Chinese, on the other hand, have a very special interpretation of koi fish in general.


Cute koi tattoo


Japanese Koi Fish Tattoos

The Japanese word Koi translates as carp, but also as love, therefore koi fish are a symbol of love (the kind of love you have for your lover, not for your parents for example).

In Japan, the koi as a symbol is very masculine. When a son is born in Japan, flags with koi fish images are displayed. Nowadays, koi tattoos are popular amongst men as well as women.

Since they are considered to be extremely energetic, koi fish tattoo designs usually have very lively colors and lots of movement. The koi fish is powerful enough to fight river currents and swim against the stream in order to reach its food sources or spawning grounds.


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Koi tattoo design with waves and kanji


There are a few ways that this power can be interpreted:

  • First, koi fish tattoos depicting the animal swimming upstream may represent strength during trying times. It takes a lot to be able to go against the tide of fate if life has stacked the odds up against you. Koi fish tattoos often represent victory despite terrible adversity: courageous triumph over a struggle.
  • Second, and perhaps more influenced by Western thought (the Japanese had and have a very close-knit society), is the koi fish tattoo for someone who is very independent. Proudly going against the grain, with little care for the opinions of others and society, a tattoo depicting a koi fish swimming through a tumultuous torrent is a powerful and personal image.

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Chinese Koi Fish Tattoos

The Koi or "dragon fish" is the king of fish and holds special significance in China. The legend says:


Any carp able to climb to the Dragon Gate along the Yellow River
will be transformed into a dragon.


As such, the koi has become symbolic of aspiration for lofty goals and dreams.


Koi tattoo with flowers and waves


Sharing much of its imagery with the Japanese for the koi's strength and determination, the Chinese koi is also associated with life-long good fortune. Koi tattoo art will bring you wealth and abundance. Since koi can eat a hefty portion of their body weight every day, they were expensive to keep. The wealthier one was, the more koi one could afford to have.

More often than not koi tattoos are very large tattoos, with intricate shading and colors to depict their rainbow of scales and their strong swimming motion against the current.

Koi fish tattoos are popular for the back and both shoulders, or as a sleeve tattoo. Their backgrounds are often as spectacular as the fish itself: with crashing water, suns and moons, cherry blossom and lotus petals floating along.

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Pisces Tattoos

Koi fish designs are also used in zodiac tattoos, more specifically in Pisces tattoos (pisces is the Latin word for fish). The pisces symbol has 2 curved lines facing each other. In Pisces tattoo designs, the curved lines are usually replaced by 2 koi fish.

 More about Pisces Tattoo Art


Some Koi Tattoo Ideas

Here are some more designs that can help you get ideas for your koi tattoo:


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Koi Fish Tattoo With Flowers and Wave Koi Tattoo Design Koi fish tattoo design (red and yellow)
Koi fish and clouds tattoo design Koi fish tattoo design with water splashes, cherry blossom and a purple flower Large koi tattoo design
Koi fish and cherry blossom tattoo White koi fish tattoo design Koi and lotus tattoo design
Dragon koi tattoo design Koi fish tattoo design with water and flowers Orange koi fish tattoo design
Koi fish tattoo design with water and cherry blossom Koi Tattoo Black and White Koi fish tattoo with flower and water
Tattoo of a koi fish swimming up a waterfall White and red koi tattoo design (in waves) Koi tattoo with cherry blossom and waves
Koi fish and lotus tattoo Half sleeve koi fish tattoo Koi tattoo on foot
Koi fish tattoo design with splashing water and cherry blossom Koi fish tattoo design with bamboo and waves Koi fish tattoo design
Koi fish tattoo Black koi fish tattoo design Koi fish tattoo design with flowers and water
Koi tattoo on a woman's arm




 If you loved these koi, you'll also love our Phoenix Designs.