A Guide to the Most Popular Japanese Tattoo Meanings

Looking to get a Japanese tattoo? Read our guide for Japanese tattoo meanings first so you can feel confident you’re getting the right tattoo for you! Here’s a guide to most popular Japanese tattoo meanings.

Do you have an appreciation and love for artwork? You may be one of the 36% of Americans who have adorned their skin with tattoos.

Tattoos are a great way to express individual interests and personality traits. And once you get one, it’s hard to stop (just be wary of the job-killer tattoo). Those who have Japanese ancestry or are interested in their culture may opt for Japanese tattoos. There are many symbols in this Asian culture that are held in high regard which make very popular tattoos. Do you want to know what they are? Keep reading to find out more.

Koi Fish

Koi fish have become increasingly popular in America, from our backyard ponds to our tattoos. But what exactly does this little fish mean?

While koi fish may seem calm and gentle, they have a bigger meaning in traditional Japanese tattoo designs. Koi fish symbolize determination. They can swim against the current, showing their patience and desire for success.

This is a great tattoo for anyone who has worked towards a goal despite hardships and delays. Much like the koi fish, your patience and determination will pay off in the end.


Americans tend to view dragons as the violent creatures used to keep the innocent princess locked up in her tower. But Japan has a different opinion – they see dragons as friendly animals who fight for the good of humanity.

Because a dragon uses their strength to bring positive changes, a Japanese dragon tattoo means wisdom as well as power. This would be a fitting tattoo for those who use their means to do what’s right.


Have you had to overcome more than your share of obstacles? Then, a wave may be the perfect traditional Japanese tattoo for you.

Japan has been affected by many tsunamis in their history. Each time a tsunami hits and destroys part of their country, they band together and rise up again. In Japanese culture, the wave tattoo symbolizes courage and determination to survive even in the most difficult situations.

Tigers and Foo Dogs

Similar to Americans, the Japanese see tigers as strong, protective animals. Tigers and foo dogs are both common images in traditional Japanese tattoo designs. If you visit Japan, you’ll also notice foo dogs in the entrance of shrines – and there’s a good reason for that!

Foo dogs are seen as protectors who ward off bad spirits and evil. Japanese tiger tattoos and foo dog tattoos represent those who fight to protect themselves and others. This makes it a great tattoo for those who have fought off their own personal demons.

White ink elements can be great additions to these tattoos. They are less noticeable and can show how your demons are fading into the background.

Traditional Japanese Tattoos

If you’re thinking about getting a tattoo soon, you may be considering taking inspiration from the Japanese culture. Common Japanese tattoo designs are filled with images from nature and deeper meanings. Just follow our guide to traditional Japanese tattoos to find the best one for you.

Do you need more inspiration? Check out our blog for other great tattoo articles like this.