The Truth about Koi


So I’m not just writing here. Looks like I’ll be writing a minimum of two articles per month for a tattoo website. Thought I’d show you the First one. 

The site is here : SoTattooed sign up. its pretty cool.

The article should be up on the front page for a while. If your reading this a few months after I’ve posted this. WHERE WERE YOU!!!!!  I’ll leave it below.

But please check out the website.

Japanese Koi

I Love legends… and I love myths from the orient so this is a subject I’ve researched a lot about… My Next Tattoo will be my Japanese sleeve dedicated to my ancestors and love of myth and music. That’s why it bugs me when I see the imagery used wrong and people passing it off as authentic.

 Over the recent years I’ve seen more and more pictures and Tattoos of Koi (Japanese) or Carp(China)… Now I don’t want to bore you with the details and a fish debate about the price of Koi why they are so popular and how important they are to Japanese culture… i mean it’s boring… I do however want to help you choose the right image. I mean tattoos don’t just look good, in a lot of cultures they have meaning. so here is what I know…


Koi/Carp legends from what I have been told and have researched started around china and then spread to Japan. When i was younger I used to hear stories about them. My personal favourite is from China and was adapted in Japan. The English translation goes like this.

 “A huge school containing thousands of koi swam up the Yellow River. The colours of their well-muscled bodies flashed in the sunlight making them seem like a million living jewels. All was going well until the koi reached a waterfall.

Immediately, a large number of them grew discouraged and turned back, finding it much easier to simply go with the flow of the river. Yet, a determined group of 360 koi stayed on.

Straining and leaping, each koi strove to reach the top of the falls. Again and again they flung their bodies into the air only to fall back into the water. All this splashing noise drew the attention of the local demons who laughed at the efforts of the struggling koi. Adding to their misery, the demons sadistically increased the height of the falls. Still the koi refused give up!

Undeterred, the koi continued their efforts for one hundred years. At last, with one heroic leap, a single koi reached the top of the falls. The God’s smiled down in approval and transformed the exhausted koi into a shining golden dragon. He joyfully spends his days chasing pearls of wisdom across the skies of the vast and eternal heavens. Whenever another koi finds the strength and courage to leap up the falls, he or she too becomes a heavenly dragon.   The falls have become known as the Dragon’s Gate and, because of their endurance and perseverance, koi have become symbolic of overcoming adversity and fulfilling one’s destiny.”

In China Swimming koi became symbolic of worldly aspiration and advancement. Carved stone seals bearing pictures of koi and dragons were given to young Chinese men who past the requisite tests to become government officials.

In japan they had many meanings, because of their struggle against the current are always shown travelling up towards the sky on whatever they are depicted on. If they are shown going towards the floor or down its a sign that it has given up in defeat. Here are the other meanings koi depict.

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

All these traits have been given to these fish that were once bread for food during harsh winters. The fish’s colouring also has something to do with its symbolism. Certain colours represent certain aspects or outcomes in life.

  • Kohaku – This koi has a white body with red spots and symbolizes success in your career.
  • Kumonryu – There are two main variations of this koi. One variation is a koi with a white body and black spots and the other is an all-black body. This Kumonryu koi symbolizes life changes and transformations.
  • Ogon – This solid, silver coloured koi symbolically represents success in business and wealth.
  • Kuchibeni – This white and red patterned koi is often referred to as the “lipstick” fish, because the red colouring around its mouth makes it appear as though the fish is wearing lipstick. Kuchibeni koi represents love and long lasting relationships.
  • Yamabuki – The Yamabuki koi is gold in colouring and symbolizes riches and wealth.

So the next time someone tries to tattoo a Koi or Carp on you, make sure they have their facts right. (If you want to stick to legend) and you wont be laughed at by anyone who knows the truth.

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