The samurai is an important symbol in Japanese culture. Their Bushido code, aka “the way of the warrior,” made them role models for discipline, respect, and ethical behaviour in Japan. These warriors shaped the country through both warfare and their conduct.
Even today, over 150 years since the end of the samurai class, their effects are still felt throughout Japanese culture. As such, samurai are one of the most popular Asian tattoo designs. We take a look at the meanings, designs, and styles of samurai tattoos.
Traditional Meanings of Samurai Tattoos
The warrior culture and Zen Buddhism-influenced conduct of the samurai dates back to the 12th Century. As such, samurai tattoos can contain many different meanings and significance. These are some of the most common meanings behind this tattoo design:
- Masculinity: Samurai is traditionally a male term. As such, featuring them in tattoos is often symbolic of masculinity. That being said, there were some women who trained and fought as samurai.
- Courage: These stoic warriors were revered for their courage, as well as their skill. Inking one of them on your skin can signify your own courage, or lend you some of theirs.
- Honour: In Japanese culture, honour was an important idea. With their strict loyalty and following of Bushido,samurai are deeply tied to honour.
- Nobility: Samurai were members of the aristocratic class. Not just anyone could become a samurai, they had to be born into nobility. As such, samurai tattoos can signify nobility.
- Warrior: Above all else, the samurai is notorious worldwide for their status and skill as warriors. People often choose these tattoos to demonstrate their own warrior spirit, taking on or overcoming challenges in their own lives.
- Life/Death: The samurai is often linked with life and death. This is due to both their militant lives and the Bushido way. A famous samurai quote is, “those who cling to life die, and those who defy death live.”
- Discipline: The samurai is famous for their discipline. It allowed them to earn mastery over their bodies, minds, and to hone their skills. A Bushi tattoo can represent or inspire discipline in one’s own life.
Samurai Tattoo Style & Placement
Samurai ink usually done in similar styles to other traditional Asian tattoos. They tend to be full-body or large tattoos on the back, shoulder, arm, or leg. Some of the most popular styles of samurai tattoos include:
Samurai Tattoo Designs & Meanings
As with many Asian tattoos, the different designs of samurai ink have special significance. How the warrior is portrayed, other elements in the image, and what to samurai is doing all change the meaning of the tattoo. Here are a few popular designs and their meanings:
Samurai & Skull
A tattoo featuring a samurai with a skull, or with a skull for a face is linked to death. Although, the link is usually positive. This often symbolizes victory over death or having the strength to overcome evil.
Only a samurai was permitted to ride a horse into battle. As such, a mounted samurai holds some reverence. A tattoo featuring this warrior on horseback conveys strength, speed, and nobility.
Samurai & Dragon
Japan’s most legendary warrior and most iconic mythical beast. A samurai and Asian dragon tattoo is a symbol of courage and strength.
Rising Sun & Samurai
The rising sun imagery has longstanding cultural meaning and symbolism. Japan has been known as, “the land of the rising sun,” dating back to at least the 6th Century. A samurai and rising sun tattoo combination can pay homage to one’s Japanese heritage.
Tattoos featuring a samurai in the midst of, or in preparation for, combat are representative of their courage and skill. These tattoos usually portray them carrying traditional weapons: spear, bow, or katana.
Samurai & Koi Fish
Koi fish tattoos are among the most popular Asian tattoos. When their design pairs them with a samurai they demonstrate the ability to overcome. It is popular among people who want to show success in overcoming an obstacle or to fuel their struggle in an ongoing challenge.
Samurai & Pagoda
A pagoda is an important symbolic structure. They were often shrines or used to house sacred relics. Placing a samurai on a pagoda tattoo is symbolic of a guardian or protector.
Samurai & Cherry Blossom
Delicate and fair, the cherry blossom shares a surprising amount of symbolic meaning with the fierce Japanese warriors. The cherry blossom symbolically represented the bushido way that guided the samurai’s moral and ethical conduct. It is a powerful Zen image.
Japanese Tattoos in Downtown Toronto & Vancouver
Chronic Ink is a Downtown Toronto tattoo shop renown for their Chinese and Japanese tattoos. They boast some of the best Asian tattoo artists in Toronto & Vancouver. With award-winning artists and a safety-focused studio, we work hard to offer the best tattoo experience.
Book an appointment today!