Koi Fish tattoos – meaning and symbolism Part 1

Wildly popular in the tattoo industry are koi fish, especially when it comes to Japanese themed designs.

If you’re thinking about getting a koi tattoo then read this first to understand their meaning and history. The design, colour, shape and direction of the fish can change its meaning.

Koi fish in Chinese and Japanese culture

Koi have a long history in first Chinese and then Japanese culture, with the former introducing the fish to the later.

Koi fish feature in the work of Japanese tattoo art because of a long-standing legend of how the fish become dragons. Most of the meaning and symbolism behind the fish stems from this ancient myth.

According to legend, there were once thousands of koi swimming up the Yellow River in China, only to be halted by a waterfall. Most of the koi turned back, but some continued to make it to the top of the waterfall, struggling for a century.

Finally, a single koi successfully leaped to the top of the waterfall, and to reward his dedication, the gods turned it into a beautiful golden dragon.

To this day, the waterfall is known as "Dragon's Gate".

The direction of Koi in a tattoo

This one is open to interpretation depending on who you ask, but remember, a tattoo is all about you, and what’s you derive from its meaning.

For some, koi swimming upstream symbolise someone who is currently struggling against the current, but refuses to give up – just like the koi in the legend.

Swimming downstream however can mean that you’ve already overcome serious challenges, and now you are no long fighting the current.

Check in next week for part two, when we talk about the colours and symbolism of koi in tattoos.