11 Traditional Japanese Koi Tattoos

katievidan in Guides

The Koi fish is, without a doubt, one of the most popular and widely recognized images depicted in Japanese tattooing.

While there are many different facets of tattooing, Japanese "Irezumi" is the way in which the body is decorated with imagery, rather than symbols. This particular style of Japanese tattooing is typically constructed of mythical creatures, animals, flowers, leaves, and other elements from various stories and myths.

Imao KEINEN
Imao KEINEN

One of the most commonly used elements in Irezumi is the Koi, or Carp. While the fish is obviously just really beautiful to look at in general, there's much more to the story than its striking good looks- it's traditionally a representation of masculinity and bravery.

Photograph by Senju Horimatsu.
Photograph by Senju Horimatsu.

Legend says that the Koi is known to climb waterfalls, and when captured- stoically awaits it's death without fear of the knife, much like a warrior awaiting his death by sword. With a reputation like that, it's easy to understand why so many people would like to have this amazing creature on their bodies for, you know, ever.

Ichiryusai HIROSHIGE
Ichiryusai HIROSHIGE

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Traditional Japanese tattoo artist Horimatsu has spoken extensively on the meaning of and execution of the Koi tattoo. He explains:

"When we use living forms such as the Koi or other animals in the world of Irezumi, it is often not in order to portray the wonders of nature, but instead a way of expressing and capturing human emotions that we either lack or are trying to achieve. In order to create the correct and most powerful graphic result it is best to let the Koi be just a fish."

I couldn't have put it better myself. Literally, I couldn't. That's why I quoted him. So, on that note- take a look at 11 amazing examples of how some of the best have flawlessly depicted the Koi fish and, in the words of Horimatsu- "let the Koi be just a fish."

Chris Garver (@chrisgarver)
Chris Garver (@chrisgarver)
Damien Rodriguez (@damienrodriguez)
Damien Rodriguez (@damienrodriguez)
Japanese koi tattoo by Rodrigo Canteras (@tattoosbyrodrigocanteras)
Japanese koi tattoo by Rodrigo Canteras (@tattoosbyrodrigocanteras)
Matt Beckerich (@mattbeckerich)
Matt Beckerich (@mattbeckerich)
Matt Beckerich (@mattbeckerich)
Matt Beckerich (@mattbeckerich)
Japanese koi tattoo by Rico Daruma (@ricodaruma)
Japanese koi tattoo by Rico Daruma (@ricodaruma)
Ichibay (@hide_ichibay)
Ichibay (@hide_ichibay)
Mike Rubendall (@mikerubendall)
Mike Rubendall (@mikerubendall)
Federico Ferroni (@federicoferroni)
Federico Ferroni (@federicoferroni)
Eddy Ospina (@eddyospina)
Eddy Ospina (@eddyospina)
Federico Ferroni (@federicoferroni)
Federico Ferroni (@federicoferroni)

katievidan

@katievidan

Southern girl living in NYC. Interests include fried chicken, heavy metal & sleeping. Tattoodo Social Media + Writer. @tattoodo

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