When I worked as a letterbrush artist, ‘koi’ seemed to be a foreign word to people. When I asked them if I should include ‘koi,’ in their art, they would give me a deer-in-the-headlights look. That’s why I say ‘koi fish’ now—adding fish at the end suddenly brings up the correct species of fish! That said, I use ‘koi’ and ‘koi fish’ interchangeably in this article—feel free to call it however you want yourself. Oh, and did I mention? Today we’re talking all about koi tattoos for men and women. This gallery is full of koi fish designs galore, and you’ll find everything from a small koi fish tattoo to a huge koi fish sleeve panorama.
Koi Tattoo Meaning
What does a koi fish symbolize? The symbolism of koi fish changes wildly depending on what continent you’re on. Undoubtedly, their popularity as a tattoo design started in Japan and spread from there, but the fish gained unique meanings as its popularity spread. Their meaning ties in with their color, so let’s start with koi fish color meaning.
The black koi fish tattoo means overcoming an obstacle, whether that’s become an astronaut, beating a drug addiction, or coming out of a divorce unscathed. A red koi fish spiritual meaning is one of passion or love. They also represent bravery and raw power. Yellow koi represent wealth, luck, and prosperity. They even have their own name in Japanese—yamabuki. A black koi and a white koi swimming together represent yin- yang, harmony, or balance. The colors are also associated with members of a family—black for a father, red or orange for a mother, red or pink for a daughter, and blue and white for a son.
Dragon Koi Fish
Dragon koi tattoo meaning plays out a little differently. You see, an old legend speaks of a group of koi swimming up the river to spawn. Like trout, they jumped out of the water as they swam through the rapids, but a huge waterfall stopped most of them in their tracks. A single koi managed to scale the waterfall after a hundred years—and that koi became a dragon. Artists depict these fish as they transform from fish to dragon. The head looks like a dragon, but the body looks like a fish!
Koi Fish Tattoo Sleeve
Whether a koi fish tattoo half sleeve or full sleeve, these fish make for awesome tattoos. Combining them with lotus flowers, waves, waterfalls, and dragons adds to their meaning. A tattoo with a fish swimming up means that you are struggling with something in your life or have overcome a battle. A koi fish swimming down in your sleeve means that you no longer put up a fight—you are happy with your life and how it turned out for you.
This only scratches the surface of koi symbolism. All of these color associations, directional meanings, and legends aren’t just for visual art, but for tattoo art! Traditional Japanese tattooing goes back ages, and if you like the tale of these little fish, then you should look into traditional artists in your area. Your artist will tell you more about these beautiful fish!
If you enjoyed this article, you can also check out our in-depth feature on Japanese tattoos. From samurai to yakuza, tattoos play a big part in Japanese culture! You can also follow our Twitter or join our email list to learn about other types of tattoos. As always, thanks for reading!