Skip to main content

Tattoo symbolism goes far beyond the individual, particularly when it comes to Japanese Irezumi. In Japanese tattooing, every motif has a meaning and each tattoo tells a story. Take a look at the meanings behind 10 of the most popular Japanese tattoo concepts in the gallery below, then let us know if you have a Japanese tattoo in the comments section on social media.


Dragons are among the most popular motifs in Japanese tattooing and they symbolize balance, freedom and good luck. There are different meanings attached to dragon tattoos depending on the color, with black dragons representing wisdom, green dragons representing nature and blue dragons representing benevolence.


In Japanese mythology, koi represent perseverance and adversity. In folklore, the koi swim upstream with only the strong and voracious making it to the pond at the top, where they're transformed into dragons. They're also known to represent good luck and fortune.


It comes as no surprise that tigers represent strength, courage and power in Japanese tattooing. They're also said to protect the wearer against bad luck, bad health and evil spirits.

Foo Dog

Foo Dogs are included in both Japanese and Chinese mythology, best known for guarding imperial palaces and temples. In tattooing, they represent prosperity, success and offer protection to the wearer.


In many cultures around the world, phoenixes share the same story of rebirth and regeneration. They've made their mark on the world of Japanese tattooing, symbolizing transformation and triumph.


Hannya tattoos are inspired by the masks of Noh theater. They represent the souls of women who've become demons out of jealousy or obsession. In tattooing, it's used to represent intense emotions and pain.


Peonies are incredibly popular in Japanese tattooing and are used as background for larger pieces or as stand-alone designs. They've taken on many meanings in Japanese mythology, representing good fortune, wealth, nobility, bravery and honor.

Maple Leaf

While cherry blossoms bloom throughout the spring, autumns are all about the Japanese maple trees. Their leaves have been depicted in Japanese art, including tattoos, for centuries and represent beauty, grace and elegance.


Lotus flowers grow in the mud, rise up through the murky waters and bloom into beautiful flowers on the surface. Through this growth cycle, they've come to represent purity, enlightenment, regeneration and rebirth.


In Japanese tattooing, foxes are called kitsunes and represent cunning intelligence and good fortune. A common motif of a kitsune is the nine-tailed fox, which is known for being able to shapeshift into the body of a beautiful woman to seduce men.

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry blossoms are synonymous with Japanese culture and bloom throughout the country during the spring. In tattooing, these flowers symbolize love, the female mystique and beauty.