Japanese Koi Tattoos
About Koi Tattoos
The history and mythology of koi go back to China, over 2,000 years ago. These images and stories were absorbed into Japanese culture. They have been kept as auspicious pets for hundreds of years. They have been popular images throughout the history of Japanese tattoo designs and are now very prevalent in Western tattoo culture.
In real life, these fish are ornamental carp kept in backyard ponds and water gardens. They were bred from ordinary fish to develop their distinct and fantastic patterns and colors. The only thing more fantastical than the array of colors that these fish have in the real world is the patterns and colors they are depicted with in tattoos.
This variety has made the design popular in both Eastern and Western tattooing for decades. The designs and shapes can be adapted to any part of the body and nearly any color scheme and style.
- Why a Koi Tattoo?
Here is a personal account of one man's choice to get a koi tattoo. He details his reasons for picking this design and how it fits into his personal history.
Bleeding Koi Design
The History of Koi
Koi is the Japanese word for "brocaded carp" and refers to the large, colorful fish that have been bred and kept in ponds for centuries. Their formal name nishigikoi translates into "living jewels." Careful breeding of these fish really got a modern foothold in the 1800s, and it has produced a rainbow of colors and markings in the years since.
They are part of Japanese mythology and are symbols of strength, perseverance and courage. These fish are very long-lived under the right conditions and this is what has contributed to these interpretations and associations. In myth, the very strong koi will be able to swim upstream and leap waterfalls, being rewarded at the end of their journey by being turned into a dragon.
From Sketch to Finished TattooClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Story of Crystal's Koi
The tattoo you see here is on the leg of my friend Crystal. She'd had a few smaller tattoos before, but when it came time for something large, she picked a koi. I think the symbolism of perseverance fits well with how she's overcome many challenges in her life.
The tattoo was designed and tattooed by Bill Liberty. His shop, Liberty Tattoo, is located in Sacramento, CA, where Crystal lives. She's a big lady and she decided to put this tattoo on her thigh, so it's pretty large. It starts just above her left knee and runs up to the top of her thigh. The entire tattoo took several sessions. Large, complex tattoos are most often done in stages, with the colors being added from darkest to brightest. The black outline and shading was done first. Then, all of the blue water coloring and shading was done. And finally, the brightly colored fish and flower were finished.