In Japan and China the koi has long been a symbol of masculinity and strength. Legends tell of it leaping up the falls at Dragon Gate on the Yellow River in China. In the process it transformed into a dragon, proof of its successful struggle against the long odds. If caught, the koi is said to await the cutting knife without a quiver, in the manner of the Samurai warrior facing the sword. In Buddhism, the koi represents fearlessness and courage on its journey through the ocean, a reminder of human suffering through our own life’s journey. A popular fish like the koi has spawned many legends and myths over the centuries. The spread of koi across Asia is attributed to Genghis Khan during the 12th century when he used them as a food source for his troops by introducing them into the lakes along his routes.
The beauty and charm of the koi has made it a popular symbol for the family, especially in Japan where tubular flags designed as koi are raised on Children’s Day — black koi for father, flame red koi for mother, blue and white for boy, and pink and red for girl. On Boys’ Day Festival in Japan, each son in the family is honoured by a koi flag as an inspiration to the young that they might grow strong and resilient like this exceptional fish.
It’s no surprise that koi tattoos are popular where masculinity is valued. In Japan, the koi would appear on a young man’s fore-arm or leg. As he continued his life’s journey he might eventually earn a dragon for his final back piece, echoing the legend of the leaping koi transforming into a dragon at Dragon Gate. Coloring, whiskers, scaling and special marks represent a range of qualities a young man might wish for in his life. For personal greatness and national pride, a white koi with a single red spot on the head would be the chosen design.