The meaningful symbolism behind a Koi fish tattoo

Koi fish background basics

These beautiful and colorful fish, also known as “carps”, have a deep background in both Chinese and Japanese cultures. Initially they were common carp, later domesticated and bred to develop vibrant colors and keep them as pets. The reason why they are so prominent in oriental cultures, is a long standing legend or myth on how the Koi become dragons.

The Chinese version of the story tells that a Koi swam up the entire Yellow River, despite the rapid current, and got to a waterfall and tried to overcome it. Due to its unwavering focus and aspiration, finally reached the top. The waterfall was named “Dragon’s Gate, as any Koi who has the strength and perseverance to complete the journey through the Dragon’s Gate will turn into a magnificent dragon. It evolved into a more advanced, vibrant creature due to his extreme perseverance and determination.

Koi fish tattoo by Timothy Kidd
Koi fish tattoo by Timothy Kidd

Koi tattoo meanings

The symbolism in a Koi tattoo includes not only what the fish represents in itself, but also whether it’s swimming up or downstream, and of course, its color.

The Koi fish has a powerful and energetic life force, demonstrated by its ability to swim against currents and travel upstream. It symbolizes lessons and/or trials that a person may encounter in life, and confronting or overcoming them. Some characteristics associated with the Koi include:

  • Good fortune
  • Success
  • Prosperity
  • Longevity
  • Courage
  • Ambition
  • Perseverance
  • Independence

Koi fish swimming upstream: can be interpreted as a struggle or the fighting of obstacles, and is used as a reminder that you won’t give up. It can also mark overcome obstacles and having gained the strength needed to continue against the current.

Koi fish swimming downstream: don’t yet possess the strength to make it against the obstacles; or haven’t achieved the goals. it can mean having already overcome all obstacles and no longer needing to fight against the current.

Black Koi: represent overcoming an obstacle successfully. It can include depression, drug addiction, an abusive relationship and many other difficult situations

Red Koi: often have the connotation of love. Not just any love, but a very strong and masculine love. The can also be used as a symbol of power and bravery, as most red symbols in oriental cultures.

Blue Koi: are very masculine and can be associated with reproduction. Often considered a symbol of the son in a family. They represent peace, tranquility and calmness.


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