The colourful koi fish are among the most iconic symbols in traditional Asian tattoos. You may recognize them from the logo of our Toronto & Vancouver tattoo shops or from our Asian tattoo gallery. Koi fish are symbolic tattoos that can carry a great deal of meaning to their wearers.
What is a Koi Fish
Koi are a variety of colourful East Asian carp. Their Japanese name, nishikigoi, means “brocaded carp.” A fitting name for a fish commonly used decoratively in ponds and water gardens. Their vibrant colours are a result of millions of years of genetic mutation.
The fossil record dates koi fish back as far as 20 million years, although they first got their name in 500 B.C. These iconic Japanese fish were actually first introduced by China. By the 19th, century koi farmers began breeding them for specific colour varieties.
The Koi Fish Story
The koi fish tattoos are popular not because of a colourful fish, but because of a legendary fish. The legend of the koi fish starts in China’s Yellow River where they grew strong by swimming against the current.
A school of koi battled the current, swimming upstream until reaching a waterfall at the river’s end. Most of the koi turned around but the bravest continued on, attempting to leap to the top of the waterfall.
As the koi continued to attempt to climb the surging waters, demons laughed at their efforts and transformed the waterfall a larger, more challenging obstacle. Slowly the fish began to give up, one after another.
After hundreds of years only one koi fish persevered. When it reached the top, the gods rewarded its efforts by transforming the koi fish into a golden dragon.
Through this legend, koi fish became a symbol that embodies perseverance and determination.
The Meaning of a Koi Fish Tattoo
The most common meaning of koi fish tattoos is perseverance. They are often used to symbolize the struggles one has overcome or is overcoming in their own life. Other meanings can be added based on the colours and styles of the tattoo.
Meaning of Koi Fish Tattoos and their Colours
The colour of a koi tattoo can change it’s meaning, although all interpretations are positive symbols. Of course, for your own koi tattoo, you can choose any colour, regardless of meaning. Traditionally, however, these colours have their own meanings:
Gold Koi Fish Tattoo Meaning
Gold, yellow, or orange are popular choices for koi fish tattoos. After all, the legendary koi transforms into a golden dragon. As well, this colour choice represents wealth, prosperity, and fortune – and who doesn’t want a little more of those?
Black Koi Fish Tattoo Meaning
The black koi is a symbol of masculinity that may represent fatherhood. It often recognizes a successful battle through struggle in one’s life.
Red Koi Fish Tattoo Meaning
A red koi tattoo can carry a number of different meanings. It may be a symbol of intense love, motherhood, power, strength, or bravery. It’s a popular koi fish tattoo colour.
Blue Koi Fish Tattoo Meaning
The blue koi fish is often associated with masculinity and fertility. Other common meanings of blue koi tattoos are peace, serenity, and calmness.
White Koi Fish Meaning
A white koi tattoo represents earning career success. It may also represent the son of a household.
Koi Style Meanings
The style and layout of koi fish tattoos can also lend significance to their meaning. Some traditional styles include:
- Yin Yang
Dragon Koi Tattoo Meaning
A dragon koi tattoo incorporates an Asian dragon and a koi fish. The dragon represents strength, power, and ferocity while the koi embodies perseverance and strength of will. Together, they allude to the legend of the koi fish, representing transformation and re-birth.
This tattoo may mean a fresh start or new beginning.
Yin Yang Koi Meaning
Yin yang koi tattoos represent the duality and harmony of life. They are often black and white tattoos but can incorporate colours as well.
Yin yang koi fish tattoos are usually positioned side by side, swimming in opposite directions. In the above image, the yin and yang fish are placed in an infinity shape.
Lotus Koi Meaning
The lotus and koi have similarities in their transformation. The lotus flower grows out of the mud to become a beautiful flower. Together, lotus and koi fish tattoos represent growth and overcoming struggles.
Getting A Koi Fish Tattoo in Toronto & Vancouver
The symbolism of the koi fish holds a universal appeal with unique meaning to each individual. Everyone has their own struggles and challenges to overcome. The koi can mark their successful conquering or ongoing perseverance.
With such a meaningful symbol, it’s important to find an artist who understands the significance and tradition of this tattoo. The best Asian tattoo artists in Toronto & Vancouver have the skills and experience to create the koi that represents you.