Koi tattoos can be interpreted in multiple ways. Depending on their color, placement on the body, and style of the artwork, the koi's basic symbolism of good fortune and perseverance can take on additional layers of meaning.
Legend has it that the koi can swim upstream and be transformed from a lowly fish to a mighty dragon. People choose this type of koi tattoo to symbolize their own progress against the odds and attainment of a dream.
Tribal Black Koi
The black koi is a traditional Japanese tattoo design. The solid black color may symbolize pain that was overcome in the past and memorialized with a meaningful tattoo. In Japan, black koi tattoos are traditionally reserved for men, and tribal variations are meant to impart regional emblems.
Twin koi depicted as a Yin Yang are a particularly auspicious symbol that derives from Asian mythology. Together, they achieve balance and symbolize a rebirth or new start in life.
Twin Red Koi
According to JapaneseTattooGallery.com, Red koi tattoos exploit the double meaning of the color red and the symbolism of the koi to emphasize love, high energy, and/or masculinity and matriarchal femininity.
The Blue Koi
JapaneseTattooGallery.com indicates that blue koi tattoos are a symbol of masculinity. They can also represent reproduction and strength.
The Dragon Koi
A tattoo of a koi in the midst of its transformation into a dragon symbolizes its bearer's own personal metamorphosis, according to JapaneseTattooGallery.com.
The Outlined Koi
The koi can also be depicted more clearly as an outline, without color or over-stylization. This simple drawing of the koi adds to the clarity and purity of the tattoo art's intent.
The Simple Koi
The graceful koi can be depicted in numerous styles, including simple, cartoon-ish lines that channel childish innocence and hope into the symbolism of the tattoo.
The Complex Koi
Alternatively, the koi may be depicted not as a simple fish, but as an amalgam of scroll work or tribal patterns. This intricate detail to the graceful koi can be indicative of the complexity of the problems its wearer has overcome or is working through.
The Koi Amongst the Kelp
Seaweed or kelp surrounding the koi in a tattoo design symbolizes the on-going struggle of the fish against is environment and the bearer of the tattoo's struggle against his or her problems.
The Koi In the Pond
A tattoo of a koi in a lily or lotus pond signifies the stable progress and purity of success. The koi has found a home in a pond and is no longer struggling up a turbulent stream.
Tattoo placement can be very meaningful; where a koi tattoo is placed on the body can emphasize different aspects of the fish's symbolism.
The Koi on the Back
According to KoiHistory.com, "backs are a popular location for koi tattoos." Placing a koi tattoo on the back could be used to symbolize putting past hurdles behind you.
The Koi on the Arm
Placing a koi tattoo on the arm can emphasize the koi as a symbol of strength.
The Koi on the Stomach
In China, fish are a symbol of fertility and unity. Here, the twin koi meeting below the navel for a kiss may symbolize love and fertility.