Top 10 Best Japanese Tattoo Designs and their Meaning

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Getting a tattoo is a fad but then is it really just that? A tramp stamp or a drunken impulse is not what tattoos are all about. They reveal a far deeper side of our civilization. Tattoos go way back in time when people would commit to that one design which would define a sacred aspect of their life. Tattoos will tell you tales of the country where they originated. It is like a photobook, a look into the life of a country. A country with rich heritage will surely have a fascinating collection of tattoos associated with her. One such rich cultured country is Japan. When one thinks of Japan, mind jumps to the samurai swords, dragons, cats, the warriors or the rising sun, but does Japanese tattoos tell the same story? Let’s take a look. Top 10 Japanese Tattoo Designs and the meaning behind them.

10. Dragons


Japan has an affinity to dragons and that is no secret. But the Japanese dragons are not all about strength, ferocity or the immense wealth. These are the attributes attached to the dragon by the western world. In East, Dragons are more about knowledge, power and a benevolent outlook for the people in need. The have superhuman powers and are seen as protectors. Japanese dragon tattoos are imaginative and every color shows a different aspect of the dragons and by extension your personality. They look magnificent on every level.

9. Koi Fishes


After dragons comes the Japanese Koi Fishes as the most commonly loved tattoos. The tale associated with the koi fishes is interesting. Koi fishes are originally from China. They are bright colored fishes which have found their way in many traditional artifacts of Japan. The fishes are said to be courageous, valiant and ambitious. The tale says that koi fishes would swim upstream the yellow river till the point called the dragon gate. Beyond this point very few fishes could survive. Those who did were rewarded and they became dragons. Another tale follows similar lines and says that the fishes swim to heaven and after all the hurdles, the fishes make it to heaven where they are rewarded and turned to dragons.  This tattoo shows bravery strength, desire, ambition and determination.

8. Cherry Blossoms


Japanese have very deep philosophy about life and they have used one beautiful way of depicting how life rally should be, like cherry blossoms.  In its beauty it defines that life is meant to be beautiful. Cherry blossoms depict strength as they can survive in harsh weather. Also they only last for couple of days hence it shows the fragility of life. It is too short to be wasted and too beautiful to be destroyed. Japanese call this Sakura. It has a lovely ring to it, doesn’t it?

7. Fu-Dog Tattoos, Tigers and Cats


Fu-Dogs are like lions with pointed ears. They have a sacred place in Japanese tradition and are believed to be protective, strong and courageous. The Fu-dogs are said to ward off evil eyes and hence are one of the most loved Japanese designs for tattoos.  Japanese tigers have the similar attributes as the animal has strength, beauty and power. The addition here is that the Japanese tiger is believed to ward off evil eyes, keep the diseases at bay and is a lucky charm. One more belief is that tigers control the wind. Japanese are known to be obsessed about cats and hence any a tie s cats make into the list of top tattoo designs. Cats are deemed powerful, stealthy, magical and royal.

6. Lotus Flower


Any Asian would easily connect to this flower for Lotus has been one of the most loved and artistically respected flowers. In Japanese culture Lotus shows knowledge, pride, beauty and respect. It symbolizes life and the circle of if going from the muddy water to the gorgeous blossom. Many a times flower is seen together with water in the tattoo like a stormy sea image of with a fish. This shows how Lotus stabilizes and interfaces with different culture in Japan.



This one doesn’t need a formal introduction or a general meaning as a Samurai is a Samurai. A warrior. A culture seated deep in Japanese heart. The west may not be all that crazy about the Samuraui but Japan loves its warriors and te Japanese tattoos symbolizes commitment, service, decipline, strength, courage, power, nobility and command over ones own life and senses Japanese Designs are known to be very colourful with artistically doen robes and lovely depiction of the fighter.

4. Water Waves


Japanese waterwaves are very popular as the element water in itself is a deeply metaphorical one. The ebbing and changing water shows life has to be adaptable. The stormy wave shows the strength and the calmness shows beauty and patience. Water is again popular for many other elements of the Japanese culture and the meanings can be many. Like the Koi or lotus or Oni or dragons. They all complement each other giving the tattoo a very deep and diverse meaning.

3. Skulls


Skulls were seen as negative tattoo for they are associated with death, danger or evil eye. It had a reputation of being an omen of the evil but if seen deeply, skulls have gotten the attribute of being an ambassador for change. It shows death which is the ultimate change. Skulls in Japan shows reality of life. It has connotation of dearth but is understood to be a symbol of respect for the forefathers and an acceptance of the ultimate realty of life.



There are two types of Masks. Hannaya masks are the ones which originate from the Kabuki plays and are one of the oldest traditions of Japan. The masks are demonic masks which has a women consumed with rage . Love is the reason here and this particular art is believed to ward off evil eyes. The people who sport them believe that these Hannaya Masks are a lucky charm for them. The other most popular mask is the Oni Mask/Demon Mask tattoo which is one of the most common tattoos and is widely popular. It is a demonic masks (like ogres, trolls etc.) and is protective representative of the spirit world ensuring that evil and unjust actions are punished. These tattoos represent good and evil fight, a wish for protection. The demons make this tattoos tricky as knowing what you wish to depict is tricky.

1. Kanji


According to the tattoo master Kazuo Ogre, a good tattoo is not just a picture, it is more than the parts of tattoo put together. Japanese language is made up of three scripts out of which one is the Kanji. Kanji are calligraphic style characters and are basically ideograms. Each of it has a whole different meaning attached to it and that is what makes it one of the most loved forms of Japanese tattoo. There are hundreds of characters each of which have different meanings and give you a change to be as creative as you and your tattoo artist can get. Be careful when you get the design for you may go wrong with the words. Britney Spears had a Kanji which was supposed to mean mysterious but actually means strange. Pink has a kanji which means happiness.

These are not the only Japanese tattoo; the list is not exhaustive in any way. Phoenix is one popular design which shows rebirth, power, cycle of life and power. A rich culture is sure to have different meanings attached to every symbol and tattoos are a fascinating way to glimpse into a country’s past.

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