The dragon is a “classic” tattoo motif, popular with both men and women. As a tattoo design the dragon shows the profound influence that Japanese and Chinese culture have had in Western tattooing for nearly two centuries. In the Far East, the dragon represents the Four Elements – Earth, Wind, Fire and Water – and the four points of the compass – East, West, North and South – and dragons are simultaneously a symbol of Water, Earth, Underworld and Sky. The dragon is a culturally far-ranging character whose apparent bad temper should be interpreted as simply amoral, neither good nor evil. The forces of nature are not human-hearted, representing as they do the cycle of life and death, followed again by birth and renewal. Nature nurtures and nature destroys. So too, does the dragon.
In China, these mythological creatures were the symbol of both the supernatural and of imperial power, residing in the heavenly realms. They were often spotted looming around thunder clouds, and became the deities of rain, producing downpours when it suited them. As shape-shifting creatures, they became so embedded in the myths and legends of Chinese culture, that the dragon is said to be the ancestor of the Chinese people. In Japan, a similar claim was made when a certain emperor declared that he was a direct descendant, himself, of the powerful and immortal dragon. It’s not surprising then, that the image of the dragon appeared on the robes of the emperor, signifying the protective powers of the dragon as well as the temporal power of the emperor.