Koi fish tattoo design is a favorite design for many tattoo enthusiasts due their beauty and meaning. Probably most surprising to many Westerners is the large amount of ancient myth that surrounds these beautiful fish from the Orient and their elevated status there. Most widely known here as the brightly colored fish that are found in ponds and fountains, carp (koi is Japanese for carp) can be found in a variety of colors that include white, yellow, gold, deep orange, and calico-colored. Especially exotic specimens of koi have been known to sell for prices over half-a-million dollars from private collectors who specialize in their breeding and showing. Although, the koi is far from just an ordinary colorful and collectible fish.
Koi are also one of the most popular and beautiful of Japanese tattoo symbols. Although Chinese in origin, the carp is now widely celebrated in Japan, particularly for its manly qualities. It is said to climb waterfalls bravely, and, if caught, it lies upon the cutting board awaiting the knife without a quiver, not unlike a samurai (warrior) facing a sword. This theme dates back to ancient China, where a legend tells of how any koi that succeeded in climbing the falls at a point called Dragon Gate (on the Yellow River) would be transformed into a dragon. Based on that legend, it became a symbol of worldly aspiration and advancement.
In tattoo imagery, especially in combination with flowing water, it symbolizes courage, the ability to attain high goals, and overcoming life’s difficulties. When the koi in the tattoo is shown swimming upstream, it can be used to mean that the person is still struggling with their problem, if downstream it implies that the person has already overcome their difficulty.