10 Stunning Koi Tattoo Ideas with Meaning & the Legend

best koi tattoo designs

Koi fish tattoo may not be the most popular tattoo ideas, but it is definitely one of the most interesting ones because of its origins, its meanings, and how eye catching it looks. In most of my other tattoo-idea blog posts, I usually just jump straight to the designs and ideas after briefly talking about their meanings. But for the koi tattoo, I am going to tell you the interesting stories behind the tattoo since its meanings are so interesting and unique. Do you know that a koi fish swimming upstream (face / head up) has a different meaning from swimming downstream (face / head down) ? Not only that, different colors of koi fish have different meanings. Last but not least, there is actually a legend about the koi fish. Okay, so let’s get to the interesting stories and I promise I will then also share with you the best koi tattoo ideas.

Story Time: How Koi Become Dragons

koi swimming

koi yellow river become dragon

The story comes from China from way, way back before history began. Once upon a time, in the Yellow River in China, a group of koi fish were swimming upstream. The flow of the Yellow River is extremely fast and turbulent. But these koi fish keep gaining strength as they keep swimming upstream. But as they reach the end of the river, there is a huge waterfall that looks impossible to reach over the top of. Many of the koi fish turned around and went downstream, while a small group remained. They kept trying to reach the top of the waterfall by swimming upstream but they fell back into the water every time, after reaching the middle of the waterfall. Then, there came the demons who mocked at the seemingly meaningless effort of the koi that kept trying. They kept jumping higher after every failed jump. Of course, there are more and more of that group who turned around and gave up, while the smaller, remaining group keeps getting stronger and tougher. After 100 years, the miracle happened. A single koi made the legendary jump that is so high that it finally reached over the top of the waterfall. The koi was so exhausted but he did it! The god saw it and was really proud of the koi’s effort and determination. The god turns the koi into a golden dragon. The dragon flied in the sky. The remaining group of the koi fish looked up to the dragon. They also kept fighting with absolute determination and finally became dragons too. The waterfall is today known as the Dragon’s Gate.

Meanings of Koi Tattoo

Koi Heads Up

A koi tattoo with the koi’s face or head pointing to the top (indicating that the koi is swimming upstream) has the meaning of never giving up, absolute determination, and overcoming challenge. If you are the type of people that is like a fighter in life, for example, an entrepreneur or an athlete that faces challenges regularly and overcome them no matter how many time you have failed, a koi tattoo with the koi swimming upstream is the perfect tattoo idea to express or empower the superpower in you.

Koi Heads Down

A koi tattoo with the koi’s face or head pointing down (indicating that it’s swimming downstream) has the meaning of giving up or goals have already been achieved and challenges have been overcome. Personally, I don’t think it’s a good tattoo idea, because if you are the type that gives up all the time, you don’t need to get a tattoo to remind yourself of your flaw or show it to everyone. And for those that achieved their goals, I don’t think it’s a good tattoo idea either, since you always want to set new goals and overcome new challenges to become the best person that you can be over the course of your life.

Other General Symbolic Meanings of Koi

Other than the meaning of overcoming obstacles and determination that comes from the legend, koi also stand for long life, good luck, passionate love and wealth, depending on the color.

Meanings of Koi Tattoos for Different Colors

Black koi stands for overcoming obstacles and strong determination. So, if this legendary meaning is the one that you love, stick to the black koi.

Golden koi, usually represented using the combination of yellow and orange, stands for wealth. It is often believed, among asian countries, that golden koi can bring them a lot of fortune. That’s why a lot of rich asian have koi ponds in their home.

Red koi has the symbolic meaning of passionate love, especially for a mother, or a daughter. Sometimes, pink koi is used for expressing the love for a daughter.

Blue koi is used for expressing one’s love to his/her son.

Having shared with you the legendary story of koi and the deep meanings, I can’t wait to share with you some stunning koi tattoos ideas. One of the best things about koi tattoo design is that it can be very feminine, it can be very serious and stylish and it can be cute. Let’s check them out.

Full Back Koi Tattoo

red koi tattoo full back

black koi tattoo full back woman

A big koi fish that is done on the entire back is a classic placement for the koi tattoo. Not only that a big one on the back looks so beautiful and eye catching, but having one on the back with the koi’s head pointing toward your head makes the fish seems like always swimming upstream. That’s probably the best way to present the deepest meaning of koi fish tattoo: overcoming challenges with strong determination.

Koi Half Sleeve Tattoo

koi half sleeve tattoo

The arm is a popular placement for a koi tattoo because it’s the perfect place to display a koi fish swimming upstream. Instead of having a small one around the shoulder area, a koi half sleeve tattoo is actually more popular idea because there is a bigger area to play around with the design and it just simply looks better that way.

Small Koi Tattoo Near Ankle

small koi tattoo on ankle

If you are not the type that likes to have big, eye catching tattoos, a small koi tattoo on your ankle may be a better idea for you. I am a fan of having some small details in your clothing or body that expresse your belief. Actually, for me, it’s more about empowering and affirming my belief. As mentioned before, a koi tattoo means overcoming obstacles. Having that meaning attached to your ankle while still looking very subtle is such a wonderful tattoo idea.

Cute Small Koi Tattoo on Hip

cute small koi tattoos on hip

If you like something cute and subtle, having a small koi tattoo on hip may be a good idea. As shown in the picture above, it can look pretty especially if you have a slim curvy waistline.

Small Koi Tattoo Behind Ear

koi fish tattoo behind ear

There is always a group of tattoo lovers that like to have a small one done behind their ears. It looks especially nice with piercing. And you can choose to show it or hide it by changing your hairstyle. For a behind-the-ear tattoo idea, a koi fish tattoo is among the best ones because it can be done as a very simple shape with powerful meaning like the picture shown above.

After talking about ideas for different placements, let’s check out some other wonderful koi tattoo ideas that combine the koi fish with something else which makes the tattoo even more unique and meaningful.

Koi and Maple Leaves Tattoo

koi fish and maple leaves tattoo

The maple leaves tattoo has the symbolic meaning of love and strength. The “strength” part comes from the fact that maple trees are strong and not afraid of the cold. They have very similar meanings to the koi fish, so it makes sense to put them together to further strengthen the meanings.

In addition, most of you probably already know that maple leave is the symbol of Canada and it’s on the Canadian flag. So, adding some maple leaves to a koi tattoo can sometimes be used to show your love and loyalty to Canada, the peaceful and beautiful country.

Koi and Lotus Tattoo

koi and lotus tattoo

Similar to the koi and maple leaves tattoo, the koi and lotus tattoo also combines two symbols that have very similar meaning to emphasize and deepen the overall meaning of the tattoo. The lotus flower is such a beautiful flower. It has the meaning of purity and beauty. In addition, the blooming of the lotus has the symbolic meaning of awakening your soul and inner power. This meaning perfectly matches the “never give up” meaning of the koi fish.

Cherry Blossom and Koi Tattoo

cherry blossom petals and koi tattoo

Koi sometimes comes with cherry blossom petals in a tattoo, and very often done in a Japanese or Chinese art style. For its meanings, you ought to know that the cherry blossom doesn’t stay very long after its bloom, indicating that it’s beautiful and but it has a short life. So, a cheery blossom is often done in memory of a loss family member to express a beautiful but a relatively short life, or you miss someone so much that you wish he or she have lived much longer. Remember, a red koi can mean mother or daughter and a blue one can mean a son. Combining koi and cherry blossom, it can be used to express how much the family member has been missed. For a black koi and cherry blossom tattoo, it can be used to express how you will try your very best to overcome every obstacle for the sake of your loved one who has passed away.

Koi and Geisha Tattoo

koi geisha tattoo

The koi and geisha tattoo is a Japanese style tattoo idea that is pretty unique. For those of you that don’t know much about Japanese culture, a geisha is a performer that sings and dances. Geisha used to be very popular many years ago in Japan. When it comes to tattoo, geisha has the symbolic meaning of beauty and ambition. Combining that with koi, the tattoo can mean overcoming challenges to achieve your dreams.

Having spent so much time and effort to prepare for this blog post, I, myself, am falling in love with the story behind koi and the amazing, eye catching koi tattoos. I hope you have found this article helpful and you have been inspired in someway, whether it’s the tattoo designs or the story that tells you to never give up and overcome your challenges ahead.

If you are interested in other non-mainstream tattoo ideas just like the koi tattoos, you may be interested in reading my previous blog post on the best Hawaiian tattoo ideas. On the other hand, if you like to check out one of the most popular tattoo ideas, I am sure you will like my blog post on rose tattoo ideas and their meanings.

Make sure you also check out our other articles in the site. We have a lot of tips and useful information on tattoo ideas, piercing, nails, dresses, trousers, skirts, fitness, and much more. Our goal is to inspire you to look the best that you can look, inside out.