Koi originated in China and they were introduced into Japan in the 1800's. According to Chinese legend, it is believed that if a koi succeeded in climbing the Yellow River falls to "Dragon's Gate" then it would be transformed into a dragon. This symbolizes worldly aspiration and advancement. In Japan they are considered a manly symbol and according to legend, if a koi climbs the waterfall bravely, and if they are caught, they will lay on the cutting board completely still facing their death bravely just as a samurai would. Based on that legend, the Japanese associate koi with perseverance and strength.
Koi fish are very powerful and energetic and they can swim against the current to reach food or spawning ground. This fact also has bearing on whether people have their koi tattoo swimming up or down. It is said that if the fish is swimming upstream then you have overcome a hardship during trying times. If it is swimming down, then you are struggling with a hardship. However others translate this to mean that a koi tattoo swimming upstream represents a very independent person that has very little concern for what others think. You would rather be your own person and face the challenge of swimming against a hard current than to conform to the rules of society. This is an act of power and you cannot be deterred by anything.
Koi symbolism is also associated with:
Power and perseverance
There are many varieties of koi and they vary in color and design. Many people believe that the color of the koi tattoo should be in harmony with you and your surroundings. Some of the more popular breeds and their colors are listed below:
- Asagi - Light blue top surface with red underside
- Bekko - Red, white or yellow with black markings
- Butterfly Koi - These come in many colors but are known for their long fins and slender bodies
- Goshiki - Black background with white, red, brown and light blue markings
- Hikari Moyomono - Two colored fish with one of the colors being metallic
- Kin Gin Rin - Reflective scales make these fish shiny metallic colored
- Kohaku - White with red markings
- Koromo - Ordered scales with blue edges
- Ogon - Single colored
- Showa - Black with red and white
- Taisho Sanshoku or Sanke - White, red and black
- Tancho - White with a red spot on its head
- Utsurimono - Black and red or white or yellow
In addition to their symbolic meanings, these tattoos are some of the most beautiful works of art that you can have on your body. Many people add water, a waterfall or flowers to their design. Another popular alternative is to have two or more koi swimming together. The possibilities are endless, and no matter what the reasoning or symbolism is behind your koi tattoo, this is one design that you will truly love forever.