What is the meaning of a Japanese Koi fish?


The Japanese carp is the queen of the fishes. The koi carp is beautiful, big, colourful and powerful. The asian carp is coveted by fishermen all over the world. However, in the land of the rising sun, this fish is special. So what is the meaning of this koi fish?

In Japan, the koi fish means courage, perseverance and love. This Japanese symbol is often used in irezumi tattoos. The koi fish motif is very popular in Japanese culture.

If you travel to Japan, you will see koi carp designs on Japanese prints, on kimono, or in Japanese temples. This gold fish has a symbolic meaning. In order to understand the importance of the koi fish in the Japanese culture, we will see in this article the :

  • Koi fish origin
  • Types of fish koi
  • Koi fish legend
  • Koi fish symbol
  • The different koi carp
  • Japanese fish tattoos

Let's start by discovering the origin of this legendary fish. 


Koi Fish Origin

The first accounts of the koi carp date from the 5th century BC. The first fish came from Korea and China. They arrived in the Niigata province. They were introduced to the Japanese archipelago with the Sino-Japanese invasions. The first carps were dark in colour.

The Japanese have been farming carp for centuries in ponds near rice fields. The aim is to diversify their diet. The first specimens of kohaku (koi) appeared in the 19th century. This mutation caused unexpected colour changes. First there were red koi carp, then white koi carp and finally bicoloured koi carp. Those fish are popular for their bright colours. They are very aesthetic. After several crossbreeding, hundreds of carp with yellow, orange, red and black tones were bred in the province.

In Japan, these colourful fish are also called "Nishikigoi". In the village of Yamaguchi, they are bred with passion. This place is famous for the most coveted koi farm in the world. These fish are very popular with the local farmers. They are kept in fish ponds in winter, and when the weather improves, they are placed in the ponds of the rice fields. In 1914, the koi became very popular due to an international exhibition in Tokyo. The Japanese emperor received a fabulous gift: eight magnificent carps. Today, these freshwater gems are victims of their own success. They are exported all over the world for their beauty.

These fish have a lot of value for collectors. Some Japanese carp are very rare and can cost more than 200 000$. The koi tancho carp is very coveted. It is a red and white carp. These are also the colours of the Japanese flag.


japanese koi fishJapanese Koi Fish swimming

This legendary fish koi can reach an incredible size. It can measure more than a meter and weigh about 15 kilograms. These big fish are sociable and live in schools. They need a lot of space to survive, which is why there are few of them in aquariums. Koi are omnivorous, feeding mainly on algae and algae plants. It also eats small molluscs and insects. The higher the water temperature is, the more the carp will eat and grow.

In winter, when the temperature drops, it hides in the mud in a semi-hiberant way to protect itself from the cold. The average lifespan of koi is about 20 years, although some can live up to 70 years.


Koi-Fish-LegendSource Adobe stock / Image work by Kimurakami designer

Here is the koi fish legend of the Japanese carp :

In the japanese mythology, during the third month of each year, thousands of carp leave the sea and travel along the upper reaches of the Yellow River. They have the strength to go up the river against the current, avoid predators in order to go in their aquatic garden pond. They gather at the Longmen waterfall. If a Koi carp manages to go up the waterfall with the help of its fins, it turns into a Japanese dragon. Every year they try their luck again. They are courageous and daring. It is an example for schoolchildren.


Koinobori festivalKoinobori festival for young Japanese

Koi is famous for bringing peace and tranquility to Asian gardens. Spiritually, it embodies strength and perseverance in the challenges of life. Koi cards are given to Japanese schoolchildren to carry wobbly exams.

The carp is also a symbol of strength and virility. Every year, a festival is dedicated to children on the 5th of May. This Japanese ceremony is called the Kodomo no hi. The ancient name of this ancestral ritual was Tango no sekkude the previous Tango no Sekku ceremony. During the Kamatura period, little boys received their first samurai armour.

Today the armour of Japanese warriors is replaced by a pennant in the shape of a koi fish. The red carp represents the mother, the black fish represents the father, and each child also has its own colourful fish. In the Japanese tradition, these fish are lucky charms. They bring good luck to the home and give courage. Sometimes children are even allowed to drink a little bit of sake.


Types of Koi Fish

Have a look to five most popular japanese carps and the explanation about Koi fish color meaning jus below

  • The Tancho carp symbolizes the Japanese flag. It is a symbol of honour. It's a red and white koi fish
  • If you need money, you have to choose a golden koi carp : Yamabuki.
  • To be lucky, you must have a Kujaku.
  • If you are in search of spirituality, the black Utsurimono carp with coloured spots is ideal.
  • The red carp, known as Benigoi, is a symbol of passionate love.


Koi fish tattoo meaningJapanese tattoo, Irezumi art

The meaning of the koi fish tattoo is related to :

  • The carp koi color
  • Other elements that complement artistic tattoo design and tatoo symbols
  • The sens of the fish tattoo art

If the fish is tattooed with the head upwards, it means that the tattooed person is perseverant and courageous. It is linked to the legend of the yellow river.

A Japanese koi fish drawing is also a symbol of will, ambition and strength in the face of life's trials. It is also a sign of love. It is associated with fertility. A colored and traditional koi fish tato indicates the path to follow to achieve one's ambition and destiny. Fish design is very popular for the yakuza clans because koi fish tattoo signifies : purity, harmony, longevity and courage


We saw in this article the importance of the carp in the Japanese culture. This fabulous fish has a deep history and symbolism. It is linked to Japan culturally and spiritually. It is a Japanese symbol that represents moral and spiritual values.

If you like the carp symbolism, we advise you to have a look at our Japanese products : Japanese koi t-shirt, kimono carp koi or our Japanese koi hoodie. We propose a whole collection of traditional clothing on the koi carp.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.