The image of the koi fish is often used in tattoo designs not just because of its obvious elegance and vibrant colors, but more because of the symbolism surrounding it.
“Koi” is simply “carp” in Japanese, but the expensive fish that we are all familiar with are carp that have been especially bred since ancient times in China. This special breeding has produced the multi-colored varieties of koi fish that people now collect.
Koi are vigorous fish that can swim upstream. An old Chinese legend tells of koi brave enough to swim up the waterfalls of the Yellow River, and that any fish that could reach the point in the river called “Dragon Gate” would turn into a dragon.
While the fish originated from China, it is the Japanese who have made it a household name. The koi is a celebrated symbol in Japan-mostly associated with exceptional courage. It is said that this fish, if caught and placed on a cutting board, can lie still and wait for the knife to drop-without a quiver. That it can remain stoic in the face of imminent death is a quality likened to the samurai warrior’s unflinching courage to face the sword.
Generally, koi fish tattoos’ meanings include strength of character and the temerity to face adversity and seemingly impossible odds. With regard to the Chinese “Dragon Gate” legend, koi fish are also seen as symbols of high aspiration and accomplishment. Koi are also referred to as “living jewels,” and so are likewise associated with luck and good fortune. The image of five golden koi are said to mean “eternal wealth” and wellbeing.
Still another interpretation of the koi’s ability to swim upstream is “non-conformity.” It is an advisable tattoo motif for people who put great importance to being an independent thinker.
Koi fish tattoos’ meanings can vary for different people. Others also believe that the meaning of the koi tattoo design differ depending on the placement, colors and position of the fish, as well as other aspects of the design. Of course, the ultimate meaning of any tattoo would always be unique and personal for the person who has it.
Because koi are beautifully patched fish, it is best to have a koi tattoo design that has any of its natural combinations of the colors gold, white, yellow, red, and black.