Koi Carp in Japanese Culture

In Japanese culture, the koi carp is a highly respected and very symbolic fish that is closely tied to the country’s national identity.

The koi carp is thought to be a symbol of luck, prosperity, and good fortune within Japan. The name “koi” itself is Japanese and simply means “carp” in the Japanese language.

Koi carp were first produced in Japan during the 1920’s, in the town of Ojiya in the Niigata Prefecture, located on the Northeast coast of Honshu Island.

The wider world was not introduced to the koi carp until the early part of the 20th century, when selectively bred koi from the Niigata Prefecture were first exhibited at the annual exposition in Tokyo.

Interest in koi carp as an ornamental fish quickly spread across Europe and the rest of the world, with all but one of our modern Nishikigoi koi varieties having developed from the small number of ornamental koi originally bred on the Niigata Prefecture.

The koi still remains hugely popular within Japan, and a great many meanings are ascribed to these beautiful fish in their home country.


Japanese koi carpFirstly, the koi signifies perseverance, due to the fish’s tendency to swim upstream, never stop moving, and resist simply “going with the flow.” This symbolism represents how a person can remain strong in the face of adversity, never give up, and develop strength of character, purpose and ultimate success through perseverance.


The koi is a common symbol of strength and steadfastness in the face of adversity, and the much-admired trait of remaining strong when faced with poor odds. The imagery of koi swimming upriver is often used to symbolize the overcoming of obstacles, and ultimate victory in the face of adversity.


Tattooing is a historical Japanese art form, with its origins in group and cultural affiliations. While purely decorative tattooing is as popular today in Japan as it is anywhere else in the world, in traditional Japanese culture, tattooing is a very meaningful and spiritual process that is not undertaken lightly.

Tattoos of koi carp are used to symbolize transformation and alchemy, and how through perseverance and hard work, the koi can climb steep waterfalls or evolve into dragons, another important symbol of Japanese culture.

The koi also represents wisdom, knowledge, spirituality, loyalty, and longevity.


Color is also relevant when it comes to traditional Japanese koi tattoos and other koi artwork and symbolism.

Black koi symbolize love and overcoming adversity while blue koi are used as a traditional symbol of masculinity and virility. Red koi are used to indicate energy.

Some of the most highly prized and most valuable koi specimens in the world are koi that have a pure white body, with a lone red spot on the head; these koi are regarded as symbolic of the Japanese flag, and are considered to be an incredibly good omen and a highly patriotic symbol.

Learn more about koi carp…

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