Koi Fish Tattoo Designs & Their Meaning

The traditional Japanese koi fish tattoo has many meanings, from prosperity to love and resilience. There are many ways to include koi in your tattoo. You can go from simple black and grey ink to colorful designs. Adding color to your koi fish adds to its symbolism. Other traditional Japanese elements, from demons to lotus flowers, will help you make the tattoo truly yours.

Meanings of Koi Fish Tattoos

The koi is a colorful fish that descends from the carp. They’re a highly esteemed species in Japanese culture thought to represent good fortune, and people often keep them as ornamental species in artificial ponds. 

Koi fish tattoos carry a lot of symbolism, such as masculinity and independence. Both the color and the position of the koi are important to define the meaning of this tattoo. 


A koi fish often symbolizes masculinity in Japan. Blue and white koi, in particular, are associated with male attributes and even reproduction. In a family, the blue koi is a symbol of the male son.


Red and pink koi represent femininity. Red is for the mother of a family, and pink is for the daughter.

Love and Passion

The red koi is also associated with love, especially the intense kind. It’s also associated with power and masculinity. If you want a reminder of your strength and passion, this color would be a great choice.


The golden koi symbolizes prosperity and good fortune. It’s one of the more popular colors, and it’s easy to understand why. If you want to attract material wealth, make sure your koi is golden or yellow.


Koi are often associated with overcoming difficult times. If you’ve had to struggle to overcome diseases, addictions or other hardships, you can represent it with a black koi. It can also mean you’re not afraid to confront hard situations head-on.

Another option is to depict the koi swimming upstream. This is considered a symbol of resilience, as the fish battles the currents to feed and spawn, the same way you battle to overcome hardships.


A koi swimming downstream implies the adversities have already been overcome. It indicates an independent spirit who’s capable of handling life’s obstacles. If you’re one of those people who march to the beat of their own drum, this is a great choice. 

Elements to Add to Your Koi Tattoo Design

Koi are usually surrounded by waves and splashes of water, but you can also design the fish on its own. Here are some ideas for other traditional Japanese elements you can add to your ink.

Lotus Flowers

The lotus flower is a symbol of purity and rebirth. It’s a beautiful and delicate flower that thrives even in the dirtiest water. Lotus flowers are a great tattoo for a person from humble beginnings or someone who has had to overcome major obstacles.

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry blossoms are a very short-lived, light pink flower that brings in the spring. They symbolize rebirth and new beginnings, but they also remind you to always live in the present.


Peonies are also known in Japan as the King of flowers, and they symbolize prosperity and good fortune. You can place them around your koi fish to bring you even more good luck.


The dragon in Japanese and Chinese cultures is a well-meaning creature associated with water, rainfall and fertility. It also represents wisdom, strength and prosperity, which is why the koi and the dragon go well together.

In Japanese tradition, koi were believed to morph into dragons if they reached the Dragon’s Gate waterfall of the Yellow River. However, only the strongest fish were able to swim upstream all the way there. 

That’s why many people include a dragon in their koi fish tattoos. It symbolizes the strength and persistence needed to reach your goals. 


The Japanese demon oni is sometimes included in a koi tattoo, as well. Oni is a fearful, evil creature that usually has horns and sometimes three eyes. They are the guardians of hell who torture sinners.

You can incorporate the oni in your koi fish tattoo to represent the evil forces or hardships you’ve overcome.


Kintaro is a mythical samurai, the Golden Boy of Japanese legends. In one of the most famous stories about him, Kintaro wrestles a giant koi and finally defeats it. 

Tattoos of Kintaro and the koi tend to be very large, even covering the full body. It’s important to convey the two in the middle of an energetic battle. 

These symbolize strength, courage and above all, perseverance, all attributes of the samurai parents wish for their children.

Yin and Yang

Sometimes, two koi fish, one white and one black, are represented as yin and yang. They represent balance, masculinity and femininity, and some use them as a symbol of a happy marriage.


Fire and water together symbolize balance and a union of opposites. This could mean the different sides of your personality in perfect harmony. It can also symbolize your union with another person who completes you.

Placements and Colors

Koi fish tattoos tend to range from moderate to large. They look better in bigger sizes, so most people choose wider areas of the body for this tattoo. 


The most common placement for a koi tattoo is on the arms. It’s easily visible there, and you have a decent-sized canvas to work with for even more complex designs. 

You can design a small fish swimming up or downstream on your arm. If you want it to be unnoticeable but always present for you, use the inside of your wrist or your forearm. These designs look good in either black and white or in color.

Men usually do a full sleeve with a koi together with an oni or dragon to portray their strength and persistence. Many choose darker colors, even depicting the water in tones of black and grey.

Women who go for the sleeve often choose peonies or lotus flowers floating on the water alongside the koi. This can help brighten the colors with some pink and purple, but also adds to the symbolism.


One option is to place a moderate-sized koi on your calves, or a small one on your ankle. You’ll get the symbolism you want, but at the same time, you’ll keep it subtle.

Some choose a bigger koi, or include it as part of a full-body tattoo. If this is your case, you can add plenty of different elements and koi of all sizes. It also looks good if you want to add some color to your ink.

Shoulders and Chest

You can place the koi right on top of your shoulder, crossing from one side to the other. Another option is to continue it directly from the sleeve, over your shoulder and the chest. This kind of tattoo looks especially good if you perform it on both sides of the body.

If you go with a demon or a dragon with your koi fish, this is one of the best body parts. You can consider placing the demon on top and the fish at the bottom, swimming towards them. This means you’re not afraid to take on the toughest challenges.

The most common tones for these kinds of tattoos are black and red. They convey the symbolism of strength and courage.


The back is the perfect place for really large-scale koi tattoos. A giant koi with Kintaro is one option to occupy the entire back. Another possibility is a slightly smaller fish in the middle of your upper back.

Cover your back with many different, colorful koi to symbolize your multiple strengths and challenges in life.

Best Koi Fish Tattoos