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A pagoda is a structure steeped in South and East Asian traditions. They are multi-tiered towers commonly associated with Buddhism or Hinduism. Their design and purpose vary, often acting used as temples, reliquaries, or shrines. They hold cultural significance and are often featured in Japanese and Chinese tattoos.

Traditional Meanings of Pagoda Tattoos

Pagodas have a long history, tracing back to the 3rd Century BC. The Hõriyũ-ji Temple, built in 607 AD is one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world. With this long history, these structures have come to hold a lot of meaning. Here are a few of the most common traditional meanings of pagoda tattoos:

Zen

Buddhist missionaries popularized pagodas throughout Asia. They used them to store sacred texts and Buddhist relics. As such, they became important symbols in Buddhist culture and came to represent their ideology. This is why Pagodas are a popular zen tattoo.

Wisdom

Pagodas are often symbols of wisdom, which likely dates back to their role in storing sacred texts. A golden pagoda is often used in Feng Shui or with talismans to improve academia. In the same fashion, a pagoda tattoo often symbolizes wisdom.

Spiritualism

The religious roots and symbolism of pagodas make them a spiritual tattoo. This spiritualism is typically attributed to Buddhism or Hinduism, as they were responsible for popularizing the structure.

Masculinity

Pagoda tattoos often represent masculinity. The protective role of the towers was a traditionally masculine role and some pagodas are more phallic in design.

Stone Pagoda
Pagoda Forest in China

Pagoda Tattoo Designs

Traditional Asian tattoos are large designs featuring multiple images and connecting elements. The way a pagoda is designed in these tattoos, as well as the other images featured, can change their meaning. Here are some popular tattoo designs and meanings:

Foo Dog & Temple

Foo dog tattoos are another iconic Asian tattoo design. These lion statues are often found guarding Asian temples. A pagoda tattoo guarded by foo dog represents protection. These tattoos usually feature two foo dogs, one male and one female, but can have just one.

Pagoda Guardian Lion

Samurai & Pagoda

In irezumi, a samurai can fill the same role as a foo dog. The Japanese warrior defends the pagoda, representing protection. As samurai tattoos can also represent masculinity, this combination can double down on masculine symbolism.

Pagoda Samurai Tattoo

Dragon & Pagoda

Asian dragon tattoos are popular all around the world. Although their strength and power would make them another worthy guardian of the pagoda, this combination most often symbolizes wisdom. Asian dragons, especially if holding an orb, possess great wisdom. This combination can also represent protecting wisdom or academia.

Koi Fish & Pagoda

Koi fish are the most iconic Asian tattoos. The koi fish tattoo tells a story of perseverance. Paired with the long-lasting pagoda (both as symbols and structures) this combination embodies perseverance. A temple atop a waterfall may also represent the end of koi’s journey, symbolizing overcoming struggles or obstacles in one’s own life.

Pagoda Koi Tattoo

Pagoda Steeple

The steeple is the most significant part of the pagoda, both symbolically and functionally. It serves multiple important functions, acting as a stabilizer, preventing leaks, and working as a lightning rod (sometimes called a demon-arrester. Symbolically, the steeple elevates the structure and represents the Country of Buddha.

Get A Pagoda Tattoo In Downtown Toronto or Vancouver

Looking for a pagoda tattoo in Toronto or Vancouver? Chronic Ink has some of the city’s best Asian tattoo artists. Our three tattoo shop locations offer a safe, comfortable environment with experienced artists that work with you. 

Book a consultation today at our downtown Toronto & Vancouver tattoo shops for estimates and designs.