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  • Writer's picturePrashob Chandroth

Japanese Tattoo Symbols and Meanings

Table of Contents

  1. What are Japanese tattoos?

  2. History of Japanese tattoos

  3. What are Japanese traditional tattoos?

  4. Colours used in Japanese style tattoo

  5. Black

  6. Yellow

  7. Red

  8. White

  9. Pink

  10. Green

  11. Blue

  12. Imagery within Japanese tattoos

  13. Japanese Dragon Tattoo

  14. Crane Tattoo

  15. Flower Tattoo Ideas

  16. Japanese Tattoo Samurai

  17. Japanese Tattoo Waves

  18. Japanese Tattoo Geisha

  19. Japanese Tattoo Peony

  20. Japanese Phoenix Tattoo

  21. Japanese Temple Tattoo

  22. Japanese Water Tattoo

  23. Japanese Tattoo Chrysanthemum

  24. Japanese Tattoo Octopus

  25. Japanese Lotus Tattoo

  26. Demon Tattoo

  27. Foo Dog Tattoo

  28. Cat tattoo

  29. Cloud Tattoo

  30. Kappa Tattoo – Japanese Turtle Tattoo

  31. Tengu Tattoos – Japanese Supernatural/Ghost Tattoos

  32. Hou-ou Tattoo aka Japanese Phoenix Tattoo

  33. Namakubi Tattoos

  34. Hannya Tattoos

  35. Koi Tattoos – Japanese Koi Fish Tattoos

  36. Hebi Irezumi Tattoos – Japanese Snake Tattoos

  37. Sakura: Cherry Blossom Tattoos

  38. Japanese Mask Tattoos

  39. Tattoos of Japanese deities

  40. Issues of legality within Japanese tattooing

  41. Taboo

  42. Is it OK to get a yakuza tattoo?

  43. What is Japanese style tattoo called?

What are Japanese tattoos?

The tattooing heritage dates to nearly 5,000 years ago. The Japanese tattoo comes in two varieties traditional and new one. The most widely used designs on Japanese tattoo are Koi fish tattoos, Geisha tattoos, dragons, samurai tattoos. Modern Japanese tattoos use a modern tattoo machine and can be made for various combinations of black and grey colors. Also a variety Japanese tattrays are available both in black and grey as well as grey and black. In an ancient Mandarin written by Wei Chih is mentioned that men of all ages had tattoos tattooed on all sides of their bodies and perhaps on faces.

japanese tattoo

History of Japanese tattoos

Japanese tattooing dates back 5,000 years in primitive clay figurines decorated with tribal tattoos. Ainu are famous for their mouth tattoos made by scratching birch wood into small incisions. In time all the tattoos were reserved just exclusively for women. In Japan Tattooing banned in the late 1800s. The ink was a symbol of courage and bravery not simply due to the legality of that ink, but also the pain of the long process. It also was a protection element for outlaws engaged in dangerous acts.

What are Japanese traditional tattoos?

Traditional Japanese tattoos are known under the symbol Irezumi. It has an ancient tattoo technology rich with symbolic images. The body artwork usually consists of several different subjects and may be inspired by folklorian tradition. Common imagery include Koi fish, dragons, geishas and flowers. The Inks were popular around the world with many people becoming inspired. Its essential to know though that some photographs may be seen as being offensive such as religious designs or those that others consider to have a dark history are. For confidential support phone Samaritans 08457 90 go to a nearby samaritans branch or click here for.

Colours used in Japanese style tattoo

A variety of different colors are available according to subjects and each carries different symbols corresponding to a different type of subject. One example with the term black koi refers to masculinity adversity and perseverance. It’s associated to nature a blue or Green Dragon with a Black dragon in masculinity and adversity. The technique is also identifiable by its brightness in which the combination black-gray black and gray is used to represent a specific subject.


Black is an intense shade of color typically thought of as masculine. The dark is associated with tattooing history. Lettering is commonly done to black ink and is associated with mystery or grief. The black dragon is symbolic of wisdom as is a cat the same colour. Black is usually a favorite color for tattoos. There exist lots of black gray and black patterns that are striking and detailed. Black and grey are associated with mysterious and masculine forms.


Yellow is a sign of sunshine and is a color that smiles. In certain sections of Japan it is considered one of their sacred color while other regions have negative associations. It complements numerous body art types from flowers to dragons and must be sure to turn heads. A further dimension is in relation gold. It is tied to God and power. As is a shade of gold worn in shrines in Japan temple motifs are also there.


Red is one of the strongest tattoo colors because it instantly creates a statement. In Japan’s technique it represents many qualities: strength, passion and blood. Shrines and temples may have painted red. The color are used in events and even in national flags. He is also believed to fight off evil spirits and symbolise peace and prosperity.


In Japan white is a popular sacred color. It can represent grief and death along with purity eet peace. . Some are associating it with new start and related to spiritual life. When inked with black or gray it creates interesting contrast a wonderful way to provide more details for tattoos.


Pink is the feminine color which has strong female character as well as beauty and good health. This can also be used in Japanese body art especially on Cherry flowers. Pink gives tattoos brighter color but gives its edges a soft feel.


Green colors represent life. In Japan this has also been associated with energy. The colorful colour makes great body art adding to the desired design an extra meaning.


Blue is a popular colour for Japanese clothes and is frequently worn around working places. It can also lead to hard work and accept. It’s also a very beautiful tattoo.

Imagery within Japanese tattoos

The most iconic image is of the dragon which is perceived in Asian culture as a wise creature capable of wielding the universe in their favour and to bring blessing to the bearer. Likewise kos and fish carps are a popular motif of Japanese tattooing. ‘Fu Dogs’ Chinese guardians lions shichi are also known. They protect wearer life by ensuring stability and health. The meaning behind Irezumi largely depends on the color selection the context and the other images which surround the main idea. This depends upon the color and placement of the tattoo.

Japanese Dragon Tattoo

In Japanese culture myths represent fierceness strength and wisdom. When it is time for the placement, your legs and arms may be the best areas to be tattooed because your form looks like you have wrap around your joints. There are many colored choices too. Each color with different meanings. Black has become associated with wisdom and green with nature, while yellow dragons are noble. You can define the colors which appeal to you the most – red and black are a very striking combination of colors you will get to choose. In western nations dragons are often treated as evil greedy.

Crane Tattoo

Crane holds great importance in Japan. It is an indicator of peace and hope. The birds are able to bring good luck but they also symbolize longer life and wisdom. The concept is usually detailed and may include other imagery to include the sun or flowers. Arm or leg bones can be big spots as they can be regularly seen but you also have more room for creative artwork – bright or colorful. The crane is an exotic creature and is deeply respected and admired and admired. A crane is subject of an fascinating legend. In some ways it’s considered an otherworld.

Flower Tattoo Ideas

Flower is important in the Japanese culture. Lotus peonies cherry blossoms and lotus are associated with life and beauty. The Japanese design utilises bright colors to make ink hard to see and is fantastic if you want anything that makes an impact. You can choose ink with one or several flowers or lets them form part of an intricate design that includes the likes or images of dragons – for instance – or. The flowers are often linked to beauty and life but generally plants are common symbols of beauty.

Japanese Tattoo Samurai

Samurai tattoos are the best symbols of Japanese style. If you want to decorate your body with unique tattoo, you should choose something that is unique as well.

Looking for something different? Samurai could be a good idea. History and culture of Japan are fascinating so it’s no wonder that quite often people decide to get such design done on their bodies. By the way, if you are looking for something more than just a tattoo, why not to check Japanese samurai armor or helmet.

Japanese Tattoo Waves

This shape, which resembles the head of a wave, is called the seigaiha, or wave, and represents the accumulation of concentric circles, which look like arches. Resilience and strength are also symbols of creative power.

Most common uses for wave tattoos are all about strength, fluidity, and movement. Adding animal-themed motifs to tattoo designs, such as dragons or koi fish, is a popular trend.

Waves have been an important artistic medium in Japan for hundreds of years. Katsushika Hokusai’s “Great Wave” is by far the most famous wave-based work.

Japanese Tattoo Geisha

‘Geisha’ is a term used to refer to Japanese traditional performance artist. ‘Gei-sha’, which means art person, traditionally was not the term for the performers themselves but for their master and proprietress of a geisha house. Geisha were women who entertained using conversation and artistic skills such as music, dance, poetry game and calligraphy.

The geisha tattoo’s popularity is increasing, especially with girls from teenager to young women. The tattoos are usually on the shoulder or thigh, and they have been described as ‘more feminine’ than other types of Japanese tattoos.

Japanese Tattoo Peony

Peony is a beautiful flower. And it’s elegantly portrayed on people’s body.

This Japanese tattoo symbolizes Peonies and wealth. It portrays the elegant beauty of a Japanese garden in full bloom, which many people will aspire to realize in their lives. The peony is also known as “King of Flowers”, and has been appreciated in China and Japan since ancient times for its beauty.

The peony represents the meaning of love, purity, prosperity and wealth, thus symbolizing a prosperous life. It is also known as “the richest man in the graveyard”.

The bright red color of the flower symbolizes passion and wealth, while the green leaves represent longevity and prosperity.

Japanese Phoenix Tattoo

Phoenix is a mythical bird from Greek mythology that has been reborn and lives through its. The Phoenix tattoo first appeared in Japanese tattoo art back in the middle of the Meiji Era (1868-1912), when tattoos were mainly used as the logos of Yakuza gangs.

The meaning of a Phoenix tattoo is often associated with happiness and power.

Japanese Temple Tattoo

In many cultures, they represent devotion to a god, or trust in that entity. A spiritual commitment and road to enlightenment may refer to enlightenment as well. Many people may design their temple tattoos to include additional Japanese symbols in order to give the design a deeper significance. A Japanese temple tattoo is a reference to the Buddhist temples, such as Tokyo’s ‘Big Buddha’ or Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion.

Japanese tattoos are usually impressed by men, but there are also women who find these designs very attractive. Usually they use this style in order to express some of their inner beliefs and traits.

Japanese Water Tattoo

In traditional Japanese tattoos, the motif of water is frequently seen in combination with koi, dragons, or demons. The popular idea is that like water, life itself ebb and flows. Strength and swiftness are shown when required, yet a state of calmness is also possible.

Although the patterns and colors of traditional Japanese tattoos can vary slightly, they generally fall into one of four categories.

Japanese Tattoo Chrysanthemum

The chrysanthemum is a popular motif in Japanese culture. The flower is said to represent the virtue and purity of the wearer, meaning it can be found commonly in bridal tattoos. In ancient Chinese literature, the chrysanthemum was a symbol of royalty—the only flower that bloomed all year round—and it was said to be a gift from heaven.

Japanese Tattoo Octopus

The octopus has inspired fear in many cultures because of their ability change color, texture and shape to blend into their surroundings. This unique quality has led them to be associated with magic and even multiple faces; they are known as the shapeshifter of the sea. In Japanese art, an octopus is often depicted wrapping around the legs of a shipwrecked sailor to symbolize its help in saving his life.

The Japanese word for the number eight, ‘hachi’, comes from the word for octopus as they have eight limbs. So it makes sense that octopi would be featured in Japanese tattoos.

Japanese Lotus Tattoo

The lotus flower is a popular symbol in Eastern art, especially in Buddhism. The lotus is known to bloom from the mud and rise above it, which makes the petals of this flower seem almost miraculous. The lotus has been used across many cultures for its majestic beauty, divinity and purity. Many people will choose to get the lotus flower tattooed over their heart or on their back to represent the purity of their spirit.

Demon Tattoo

The most popular image is the On, a genre of ogre or demon depicted in Japanese mythology. Your ink can be the balance between evil and good. The wearer may also want to alarm others with body art and to show that one is not harmed. Some pieces are also exceptionally detailed with other images of which are usually cherry blossoms or snakes to give a statement. They often display extremely detailed pictures.

Foo Dog Tattoo

The mythical lions-like creation is important in Japan. He’s an architectural ornament to protect important building and shrines. They are a great choice with a perfect tattoo. An intriguing beast inspire’s the Western world, and if you love the symbolism – it makes an excellent choice for your next drawing. Fuo translates in Japan as well as Westerners into prosperity.

Cat tattoo

Cats are commonly associated with good luck and good fortune and so make for wonderful tattoos. Some people choose things like Japan for what they appreciate. It is essential to avoid being offending with your design and it is always best to avoid sacred imagery. There is a diverse process and many people choose the traditional approach for their ink.

Cloud Tattoo

Kumos can be used as fillers for image or by forming their own on their own. The cloud embodies the love of nature and is a symbol of important aspects of masculine nature impermanence change. They often look better in dark and make very bold statements experts advise.

Kappa Tattoo – Japanese Turtle Tattoo

Another popular Japanese tattoo designs are from the myth of huge turtles and giant salamanders from the shallow water catching everyone nearby. Due to this myth Kappas are described as troublemaker and an infraction. The most significant feature is the little cavity with water above the head of the mollusk. If the cavity is wet then turtle will be unable to function. We are not sure why such tattoos are popular with foreigners but we assume the majority people don’t really know the meaning of the Turtle design. The most notable design of the tattoo is the inclusion of water in the back of the head which fills the cavity.

Tengu Tattoos – Japanese Supernatural/Ghost Tattoos

Tattoos commonly feature humanoid variations of supernatural entities with demonic characteristics. They often carry longer noses and elongated faces which often have unsettling effects. They usually feature color red and black because they further highlight their wrathfully symbolism. The tattoo is easily noticeable but usually placed anywhere on the body, including the chest. These species usually carry the meaning of war and destruction thus the red color also illustrates militant symbolic meanings. They are known to be demonoids which are placed either at the back / the rear.

Hou-ou Tattoo aka Japanese Phoenix Tattoo

The phoenix symbolizes the imperial house in Japan h or-eou. And the mythical Bird represents truth fire justice righteousness obedience and the sun. A fiery bird is a figure of reconciliation but also disharmony coming out of heaven at times of peace while fleeing into its astral abode whenever it invade a land of conflict. It is therefore seen as a symbol of new times whether they’re better or worse. In Erezumi, these animals are often thought to share an airborne physiology. Special long hairy necks and scares that have snake hair and peapy tail-feathers.

Namakubi Tattoos

Namakubi tattoo is the picture of severed heads. Other details can include arrows, rope or daggers often covered. These images have been found in the history of feudal Japan when war was underway and many honourable rituals were in place. Sepupuu was preceded by self-destructive remmanchment after the beheaded part. Seppukas was used as both the suicide ceremony and capital punishment and used as both suicide ceremonies. The Namakubi tattoo reminded me of honorable acts, respect, courage and overcoming fear. Heads will wiggle -.

Hannya Tattoos

Hannya masks are demonic females cursed for their envy obsession and their anger. Hannya Tattoos can be widely used for their historical symbolism and depictions of Japanese culture but also because they’re visually captivating. A white Hannya tattoo depicts a noble woman, while in red it indicates a provincial serf ou peasance. This most dark shade was reserved for the darkest demons who were once harkening in to the woman no longer she was, and that deeper shade to darkness was.

Koi Tattoos – Japanese Koi Fish Tattoos

Story by the Japanese and Chinese the koi fish who jumped the fluff to reach the top of the waterfall and was transformed into thames is popular. The koji fish is often called the symbol of the Japanese virtue and wealth – success, overcoming obstacles courage and determination. Based on the colors of the tattoo it can carry a combination of different meaning – like that of masculinity – motherhood – strength courageousness – independence rich a desire to.

Hebi Irezumi Tattoos – Japanese Snake Tattoos

In Japan Hebi means Snake and Irezumi means tattoo. Many Japanese snake tattoos depict oriental notions like snake. In the Japanese tradition the snake represents rebirth change or transformation. Snake symbols are also good luck if they are white. However if the tattoo is depicted with black/deceased creatures, it can cause great distress. The serpent tattoos are often on the shoulders arms and chest area, as they appear to show the most images.

Sakura: Cherry Blossom Tattoos

Japanese have a history of practice Buddhism and embracing impermanence is a large part of it. Most cherries blossom tattoos capture them at their fullest, but they are nonetheless symbol for our short time on earth. Often a flower can bloom at 14 days’ time then vanish. Cherry blossom are a perfect symbol to the Japanese respect for the natural environment and its cycle of life. Reading more: The cherry blossom – Tattoos.

Japanese Mask Tattoos

A Tengiru can be pictured in many different ways and every image depicts a different story. Kitsune means fox on Japanese folklore. Okame as Japan’s religionist has been created to express beauty and femininity. In order to display strength and respect, you require an Okina Mask. Hyottoko is a humorous character that bring good fortune to your life. It’s a terrible and deranged turn on Santa Claus but that does not change his mischievous nature. As a monkey saru includes having the silly side or the trickster.

Tattoos of Japanese deities

The king of thunder Raijin and his brother Fujin grapple to get the first place as to the sky’s principal deity. Daikijin has large white hair. He is pronounced on a white background. Although Fujin is a famous Japanese deity the history going on around Fujin is written in Greek mythology. Fodo Myoo is from Shingon which literally means Truth or “Word”. Emibu is one of 7 Lucky Gods. He is the only god that consists of 100% Japanese natives making Ebisu fairly popular throughout Japan.

Issues of legality within Japanese tattooing

Tattooing is still being fought on the authorities and the Mainstream Social. The law says the only person capable of prickling skin with a needle are those who hold a valid medical license. Taiki Masuda was prosecuted over arrest after his Osaka salon had its studio raided and fined. His trial continues into the early 20th century. Taika. In 2015. Masuda received a fine. In 2015 it cost US$1,000 he remains fighting for tattoo rights in his Osaka studio for his arrest. In 2012 the mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto.


During the Meiji period in Japan people banned irizumi tattoos. The only people to get tattoos in this style were considered a criminal. A subset of traditional japanese underground yakuza view the tattoo as not only art but as a major society. Newyakuz avoiding negative connotation with tattoos are with tattoos but there a subset of them who see tattoo as its art form and social status.

Is it OK to get a yakuza tattoo?

Those who broke the law in the Edo era would get the Tokugawa character tattooed on their backs in order to escape execution. This would lead to the authorities chopping off the skin before to the execution. A tattoo of a family symbol is close to being as serious as tattooing a samurai symbol first generation

What is Japanese style tattoo called?

Overall, Japan’s tattoo culture is known as Irezumi. Wabori, as mentioned before, is a classic Japanese tattoo style.

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