Koi fish represents one of the most iconic symbols of Asian tradition and traditional Asian tattoos. This wonderful symbol carries many incredible meanings and can be adjusted for breathtaking tattoo design.
If you want to get a Koi fish tattoo, we recommend you continue reading for a better understanding of the symbolism and how the fish fits you, and the tattoo design you may have in mind. So, without further ado, let’s get started!
What Is A Koi Fish?
Koi fish has a long history and an incredible impact on the culture of China and Japan. Its name, Koi fish, originates from the Japanese name Nishikigoi, which translated means ‘brocaded carp’.
The fish was and still is, kept for decorative purposes in outdoor ponds or water gardens, characteristic of the Japanese royal and wealthy tradition. The color variations this fish can have all stems from genetic mutations lasting millions of years.
The distinguished coloration, pattern, and scalation have made the Koi fish a suitable centerpiece of many Asian legends and traditional stories. The Koi fish can have color schemes including white, orange, red, black, blue, yellow, and cream.
Because ‘Koi’ in Japanese is a homophone for another word meaning love and affection, the Koi fish is often a symbol of love, friendship, and commitment in Japan.
Koi Fish And The Golden Dragon Legend
Koi fish is one of the main symbols of Asian legends and traditional stories, old as much as thousands of years.
However, the very legend of Koi fish originates from China, or the more specific the river Huang Ho, also known as the Yellow River.
At this river, the Koi fish were known to grow incredibly strong, since they managed to swim against the current.
According to the Chinese and Japanese myth, thousands of Koi fish continued to battle the current, until they eventually reached a waterfall on the Yellow River.
Upon seeing the waterfall and recognizing that this obstacle is impossible, many fish gave up and return to swimming with the current.
However, a small number of Koi fish was determined to reach the top of the waterfall.
Meanwhile, demons saw the fish battling the waterfall, and decided to make the waterfall larger and even more challenging.
At last, only one Koi fish managed to reach the top after 100 years of trying. Upon reaching the top, the gods rewarded the fish by transforming it into a golden dragon.
Because of this myth, Koi fish is regarded in Chinese tradition as a symbol of determination, perseverance, and the ability to reach any goal.
Koi Fish Tattoo Meaning
The Direction In Which The Fish Swims
The meaning of what Koi fish represents can be numerous. It varies from one person to the other, but some symbolism and meaning are set in stone when it comes to Koi fish tattoos.
Here are some of the main meanings and symbolism of a Koi fish tattoo in regards to the direction in which it swims;
- Koi fish swimming upstream – such a depiction of a Koi fish can carry a load of meaning. Some of the symbolism includes battle, struggle, obstacles, perseverance, and commitment to the goal. It can also represent strength and ability to go against the current, no matter what it takes.
- Koi fish swimming downstream – this usually carries a meaning that you’re in a process of deciding what is it that you want in life and that you may not yet possess the strength to go against yourself and the current. But, it can also mean that you’ve already reached the ‘top of the waterfall’, and now you’re enjoying the slow swimming down the current, enjoying your success and the fact that you fought the obstacles successfully.
The Color Of The Koi Fish
Koi fish can have numerous colors. The fish have been originally bred to have multiple, distinct colors, and truth to be told, the colors tend to be breathtaking.
So, each color of the Koi fish carries a different meaning and symbolism. In regards to each color, here’s what a Koi fish tattoo can mean;
- Red Koi fish – the main symbolism of a red Koi fish is love, power, strength, bravery, and motherhood. This is one of the most common color choices for a Koi fish tattoo since it is striking and enhances the tattoo design.
- Black Koi fish – the black color for a Koi fish tattoo is usually chosen by men, since it represents masculinity, and often fatherhood. However, it can also symbolize overcoming struggles and winning battles in life, which is something everybody experiences and can relate to.
- White Koi fish – a white Koi fish tattoo symbolizes success in one’s career and business endeavors. It can also represent a powerful transformation, growth, and a sense of rebirth after a significant event in life.
- Blue Koi fish – the blue color of the Koi fish tattoo symbolizes masculinity and fertility. However, it can also carry the meaning of calmness (as in calm, blue waters), peace, and serenity.
- Gold Koi fish – the golden color, or the variations of gold with orange or yellow tones symbolizes the actual transformation of the Koi fish into the golden dragon. From there, the meanings can include prosperity, strength to overcome obstacles, good fortune or luck, wealth, etc. Because of the symbolism and meaning, gold is the most common choice for the color scheme of the Koi fish tattoo.
The Design Style Of Koi Fish Tattoos
There are 3 main design styles of Koi fish tattoos. Each design style furthers the meaning of the tattoo and makes it more unique and personalized. Here’s what the traditional design styles include;
- Dragon design
- Koi fish, yin yang design
- Lotus design
The Dragon Design
Because of the traditional legend of the Koi fish and its transformation into a golden dragon, both have become the staple when it comes to Koi fish tattoo designs.
Both Koi fish and the dragon carry their own separate meaning, but the design where they’re brought together in one image often depicts strength, power of will, perseverance, commitment to the goal, and similar characteristics.
Of course, such imagery as a whole symbolizes transformation, improvement, growth, a fresh start, and rebirth.
The dragon design is most suitable for body parts like the shoulder and arm area (called ‘a sleeve’), the chest, the back, and the upper thigh. Mostly, we can say that larger body areas are the best for such tattoo design since they comprise a lot of imagery, detailing and can fully come to life in larger sizes.
However, if you do decide to get a dragon Koi fish tattoo on any of the mentioned body parts, bear in mind that the tattoo sessions might last longer or even be split into several sessions. The sleeve tattoo might hurt the least, while the chest and back tattoos could hurt the most since they’re more close to sensitive areas with a lot of nerve endings.
Koi Fish Yin Yang Design
The combination of the yin yang symbolism together with Koi fish often present strong imagery and meaning. The yin yang represents the good and bad, the duality and harmony of life, while the Koi fish shows perseverance, struggle, and ability to reach goals, which is also an important aspect of life.
The yin yang Koi fish tattoos often feature 2 Koi fish placed in a circle, depicting the yin yang symbol. However, the circle isn’t the only shape the fish take; there are often variations of yin yang Koi fish tattoos where the fish form the infinite symbol too.
The yin yang Koi fish tattoos are often black and white, to be as truthful to the yin and yang symbol as possible. However, there are colored variations as well, where 2 colors carry different meanings, often personal to the owner of the tattoo.
Such tattoos are suitable for different body parts, but it seems people mostly place them in the abdominal area, inner arm area, forearm, behind the neck, or the shoulder area.
Depending on the size of the tattoo, you can expect pain fluctuations. The most painful areas would be the abdomen, the neck, and the inner arm, due to numerous nerve endings and thin skin.
Another common Koi tattoo design involves the lotus flower. Just like the Koi fish transformed into the golden dragon, the lotus transforms from a plant in the mud to a breathtaking flower.
That is why these two symbols are often paired together to create an even deeper meaning of growth, transformation, rebirth, and overcoming struggles to reach your final goal.
The lotus Koi fish tattoo can also carry the meaning of masculinity, power, independence, love, and friendship. So, this is a rather relatable tattoo design that surely speaks to almost every person out there. That is why the lotus Koi fish tattoo design is highly sought after and preferred by those wanting their tattoos to have a deeper meaning.
When it comes to this tattoo design, the majority of people tend to place it somewhere on the arm or leg. The extremities seem to translate the beauty and the fish movement the best, so the tattoo appears more tangible and alive.
The color of the lotus tattoos can vary, but the majority of people go for some color combination, just to enhance the beauty of the lotus and the meaning of the Koi fish.
The Best Koi Fish Tattoo Design Ideas
Best Small Koi Fish Tattoo Ideas
Best Sleeve Koi Fish Tattoo Ideas
Best Lotus Koi Fish Tattoo Ideas
Best Dragon Koi Fish Tattoo Ideas
Best Yin Yang Koi Fish Tattoo Ideas
Best Koi Fish Tattoo Designs For Men
Best Koi Fish Tattoo Designs For Women
We hope our little insight into the world of the Koi fish tattoos was helpful. The tattoo designs we recommended are based on the current trends, the best classic design ideas, and what we overall think would suit the majority of people and style preferences.
Getting a Koi fish tattoo is always special and meaningful, so make sure to do thorough research and find the design that will suit you the best.
Also, if you have low pain tolerance, we recommend you go for a smaller tattoo, and body parts like the shoulder area, outer arm, upper thigh, calf, etc. If you can handle more pain, then the bigger tattoos will suit you better, especially in places like the upper or lower back, the chest or abdomen, or the whole arm (also known as the sleeve).