Koi Fish Tattoo Meanings

Koi fish are absolutely gorgeous, and one of the best-known icons of Japanese and Chinese culture. Originally, koi were just common carp fish, but were selectively bred to produce the beautiful colors and patterns that we see today. The elegance of their shape and their brightly glittering, colorful scales make them one of the most popular choices for ink for both men and women. Koi fish are also very rich in symbolism; listed below are a few examples of what different tattoo designs for koi fish can mean.

Japanese Koi Fish Tattoo Meaning

There is an ancient Japanese legend that koi fish become dragons. Specifically, a school of koi fish is said to have swam up the Yellow River. As the river grew more difficult and the current more treacherous, many of them dropped off, until only one fish preserved and made it all the way to the top of the waterfall at the end of the river. Because of the fish’s strength of will, it was blessed by being transformed into a celestial dragon.

Many koi tattoos are done in the Japanese art style, which features strong linework and bright colors.

Japanese Koi coverup tattoo

Japanese Koi tatto by @sara_ringo

Koi and Dragon Tattoo Meaning

This tattoo is often a reference to the Japanese legend mentioned above. A koi and a dragon depicted together are the ultimate symbol of strength and force of will in achieving one’s goals. This tattoo design can also be taken to symbolize rebirth or a transformation.

Koi Fish and Dragon Japanese tattoo

Koi fish and dragon tattoo by @mikeerwinart

Tribal Koi Fish Tattoo Meaning

The elegant curves and lively action of the koi translate very well into graphical tribal tattoos. However, tribal tattoos are usually monochromatic and done in thick black lines, which can make it difficult to capture the beautiful scales of the koi fish.

tribal black koi tattoo

Tribal Koi by @trentstone_tattoos

Koi Fish and Lotus Flower Tattoo Meaning

Lotus flowers are famous for their beauty, which is made all the more impressive by the fact that they bloom out of muddy ponds. Lotus flowers are often symbols of transformation, perseverance through difficulty, and inner strength/ beauty. When combined with the koi fish, this tattoo design is strongly indicative of personal rebirth and finding the inner strength to bloom into a more prosperous area of your life.

Blue Koi With Lotus Swimming Upstream

Blue Koi and Lotus Tattoo by @karlycleary

Koi Swimming Upstream Tattoo Meaning

Koi are heavily associated with strength… they are one of the few fish that possess the ability to swim upstream against the current. A tattoo of a koi swimming upstream can represent perseverance in a personal battle or struggle, or that you have overcome a difficult period in your life and are the stronger for it.

Black Koi Swimming Upstream

Blackwork Koi Tattoo by @sansotattoo

Koi Fish Swimming Downstream Tattoo Meaning

A koi tattoo where the fish is swimming downstream can symbolize that you have made it past a particular struggle or obstacle, and no longer have the need to continue fighting the current. This tattoo design can also indicate that while you are not at the level you need to be to reach your goals, you are working steadily towards success.

Koi Fish Downstream on Foot

Koi Fish Swimming Downstream by @amish_mike

2 Koi Fish Tattoo Meaning

It is fairly common to see tattoo designs featuring two koi swimming side-by-side in a yin-yang pattern. This tattoo represents the duality of life and the balance of opposing energies (male vs. female, dark vs. light, etc.). A tattoo of two koi fish can also represent that journey in overcoming difficult times in life (see the references to swimming up- or downstream above), as well as the notion that all things in life are connected.

2 Koi Tattoo

Red and Blue Koi Tattoo by @mitz_tattoos

Koi Colors and Meanings

Red Koi Fish Tattoo Meaning

The color psychology of red koi is fairly typical in that a red koi tattoo generally represents a very intense, passionate love. In Japan, red koi can also be the symbols for the mother or daughter of a family, and can make a great mother-daughter tattoo, or a piece celebrating motherhood in general.

Black Koi Tattoo Meaning

Black koi, more so than other colors of koi fish, are associated with overcoming obstacles in life. A black koi tattoo normally represents conquering personal struggles or battles, and achieving the strength needed to live a prosperous and happy life. In Japan, a black koi is also a symbol for the father of the household, and in this regard makes a good choice for a tattoo celebrating fatherhood.

Black koi tattoo on forearm

Black Koi Tattoo by @jakevachekart

Blue Koi Fish Tattoo Meaning

Blue koi are representative of the sons in the family, and as such are generally more masculine symbols. The use of the color blue is also typical in that it represents calmness, serenity, and peace. Blue koi also have ties to reproduction and sexuality.

Yellow Koi Tattoo Meaning

Yellow or gold koi are often associated with wealth and prosperity. In Japanese legend, it was a yellow/golden koi who fought against the current to swim up to the top of the Dragon’s Gate waterfall, and was thus rewarded by being transformed into a heavenly dragon.

Yellow Koi Fish Swimming Upstream

Golden Yellow Koi Fish Tattoo by @natasha_e

Orange Koi Fish Tattoo Meaning

Like the red koi, orange koi are representative of mothers and can make a great maternity tattoo.

Orange Koi Tattoo Sleeve

Orange Koi Tattoo by @tattoohuynhle

Pink Koi Fish Tattoo Meaning

Pink koi are the other color of the fish that represent daughters in a family. They are more commonly associated with femininity, and because of the strength connected with the koi, this particular color makes a good choice for a pro-feminism tattoo.

Black and White Koi Fish Tattoo Meaning

A black and white koi symbolizes life changes; this tattoo can be used to signify transformations or rebirth in your life.

White Koi Fish Tattoo Meaning

A white koi (or a white koi with black spots) can signify success in your career. This makes a great choice for achieving the job of your dreams, or reaching the top in your field.

Summary Of Koi Fish Meanings

Koi fish have been a dominant presence in the tattoo world for many years, and their popularity continues to hold strong today. Koi fish tattoos are not only beautiful, but they also symbolize many positive things and make strong designs in nearly any art style. Here’s a quick summary of what koi fish tattoos mean:

- Strength

- Perseverance

- Rebirth, transformation

- Overcoming struggles or obstacles in life (especially black koi)

- Working towards success (koi fish swimming upstream)

- Achieving success (koi fish swimming downstream)

- Success in the workplace (white koi)

- Duality/ balance (2 koi swimming together)

- Wealth and prosperity (yellow/gold koi)

- Motherhood (red or orange koi)

- Daughters (red or pink koi)

- Fatherhood (black koi)

- Sons (blue koi)

- Reproduction/ sexuality (blue koi)

- Masculinity (blue koi)

- Femininity (pink koi)


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