Using Koi fish in Japanese tattoos

Tattoos have been popular for centuries but recently the popularity of shows like NY ink have made them even more mainstream. Most people who get tattoos will get something that has personal meaning and value to them for example picture of a loved one, or an image that brings to mind a particular memory or point/ stage in their lives. Koi fish are some of the most common images use for Japanese style tattoos.

Koi fish are a common feature in Japanese gardens, both within the country and in other parts of the world. They are interesting and colorful additions to Koi ponds and water gardens.

History of the Koi fish

Although originally from China,Koi fish found their way to Japan through Chinese warriors who introduced them during their conquests in Japan. They are a type of carp that were domesticated in China that were bred primarily because of their physical appearance.  They can be found in a variety of colors including cream, yellow, red, white, and black, orange/gold. The fact that they can adapt to different climatic conditions had also increased their spread in different parts of the world.

There is no doubt that the fact that Koi is such a beautiful fish to look, is one of the reason why it is so popular in tattoos but the legend that surrounds it has also contributed to the meanings associated with it.

Legend of the Koi fish

According to this legend which has slight variations in the Chinese and Japanese versions, one fish managed to overcome and cross strong currents in a waterfall in the yellow river and was turned into a dragon as a reward by the gods because of its tenacity and perseverance.

Over the years it has had several meanings attached to it including;

  • Strength, courage and perseverance
  • Good luck
  • The ability to overcome obstacles in life
  • They can also be used to represent a transformation or stage in life that an individual has gone through or overcome.

The direction that the fish is swimming in a tattoo can be used to give further meaning to a tattoo for example a fish that is swimming upstream can be used to mean that one is in the process of overcoming a struggle while a fish swimming downstream can mean that one has already overcome an obstacle or to celebrate a victory or achievement of a goal.

From the above it can be seen that tattoos of Koi fish are not only beautiful to look at but can also have personal stories attached to them.