What Is The Meaning Of Koi Fish To The Japanese Culture?

Koi fish swimming

Have you ever seen a vibrant orange-and-white koi fish swimming in an ornamental pond? Do you know what the symbol behind it means? In Japan, where these fish originate from, the meaning of koi has strong spiritual and cultural connections.

Much Japanese art and culture use the Koi fish symbol; the koi fish is a significant symbol in Japanese culture. In Japan, the koi fish symbolizes luck, prosperity, good fortune, strength, perseverance – everything good. The Koi fish symbol is very closely associated with the Japanese cultural identity. The word ‘Koi” is a Japanese word that means carp fish.

Table of Contents

koi fish swimming in lotus pond
Koi swimming in a lotus pond

Japan and The Koi Fish

In Japan, the koi fish or koi carp fish symbolizes luck, prosperity, good fortune, strength, and perseverance in facing adversity. The ornamental koi fish symbolizes Japanese culture and Japan’s country identity.

The Koi is also known as Nishikigoi, which means the brocaded carp. You will find it is also referred to as the koi carp fish.

The word Koi is a Japanese word that means carp. There are many varieties of Koi, but the ornamental Japanese Koi carp was introduced in Japan in the 1920s in the Niigata Prefecture on Honshu island.

This fish is usually kept for decorative purposes in outdoor koi fish ponds or water gardens. You can find many Koi in decorative gardens throughout Japan and even the world.

The koi are ideal for outdoor life as they are coldwater fish that can adapt to many climate and water conditions. This makes them ideal domesticated fish for a place like Japan.

The popularity of the koi is not just limited to Japan. Koi fish are now found worldwide, especially in China and other parts of Asia.

The United States and Europe have koi fish clubs and koi fish shows. This shows the ornamental koi fish’s popularity has gone outside the borders of Japan and to many other parts of the world.

koi fish wood block print
Carp or Koi (1926) by Ohara Koson. Original from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel

Koi Fish History

The Koi carp may be an important symbol in Japan, but the fish first came to China 2500 years ago. The koi were popular with the rice farmers as they could be kept in the rice ponds above the rice paddy fields and then eaten as a food source.

Not until many centuries later did the Chinese introduce the koi fish to Japan. At first, the koi fish were eaten as a source of food. This is why the word koi in Japanese still means carp and is still used as a word for all kinds of carp fish, not just the brightly colored ornamental fish that we recognize as the koi fish of today.

In the early 19th century, Japanese farmers noticed color changes in some koi fish specimens and began breeding more colorful koi fish as pets than food sources. Because of how beautiful the fish are, many legends surround the koi fish.

Listen To Our Podcast About Koi Fish – The Importance And Symbolism below or by clicking here.

Koi Fish Legends

Because of how beautiful the fish are, many legends surround the koi fish. There are traditional legends of koi fish in both the Chinese and Japanese cultures.

One legend describes how the re-known Chinese philosopher Confucius was given a black koi on his son’s birth. According to legend, all bright-colored koi are descendants of the koi fish that Confucius was given.

Another legend tells a story at the Dragon’s gate waterfall at the yellow river; the koi fish are so strong that the fish can swim upriver and even up to the top of the waterfall. The koi fish that reach the top of the waterfall becomes a mighty dragon.

In Japanese culture, another legend says that the koi fish could conquer waterfalls. This is because the Japanese believe the koi fish to be as brave as samurai warriors.

koi fish japanese kites
Japanese Koi Fish Kites

Japanese Cultural Symbols Of The Koi Fish

In Japan and the Asian culture, there are many things that the koi fish represent. The symbols of the koi fish are almost as varied as the fish itself. This is because the Koi fish represents all things positive and good.

Here Are Some Of My Favorite Symbols Of The Koi Fish:

Koi Fish Symbolize Perseverance

The Koi fish symbolize perseverance because the Koi swim upstream and never stop moving. The koi will resist going with the flow and will push against the water currents.

The Koi show us when someone faces adversity, they should not stop or give up but instead keeps ongoing; the koi fish keeps on moving even when going against powerful currents. The koi fish symbolizes the strength to persevere through all the hard times.

Koi Fish Symbolizes Strength

Because the Koi fish can swim upstream, they symbolize strength and steadfastness in adversity. The koi fish remain strong even when abysmal odds are stacked against them.

The strength of the koi fish also includes the strength of character. The koi can accomplish everything they set forth to accomplish. The koi fish works to overcome obstacles until they have the ultimate victory in facing adversity.

The koi are so strong that they can even climb steep waterfalls. In Japanese culture can even turn into a powerful; dragon.

Koi Fish Symbolize Good Luck and Fortune

Koi fish also symbolize good luck and fortune. This is why a factory in many parts of Asia may have a koi fish pond to bring them good luck and fortune.

Many believe that having the white koi fish in your home or workplace will help bring good fortune and good luck. This is because the koi fish is a symbol of all things good.

Koi Fish And Art Of Tattoos

Koi fish is a popular symbol or tattoo that many people get. In the traditional Japanese culture, tattooing was a spiritual process that would not be undertaken lightly by the person giving or getting a tattoo.

Today, many places, such as public pools or hot springs, will ban those from entering with visible tattoos, no matter how small they are. Japan has outlawed tattooing. Even as far back as the late 19th Century, Japan started to ban tattoos. In 1948 Tattooing became legal again, but there is still a huge stigma associated with the Japanese art of tattooing. It is legal to receive a tattoo in Japan but illegal to give it to another person.

This is interesting as the koi fish is an essential symbol of Japanese culture. And because of its symbolism, the koi fish is also a popular tattoo for many people worldwide.

The color of the Koi carp tattoo is considered very important. Here are some colors and symbols of the koi fish:

  • Black Koi – The black koi symbolizes overcoming adversity, love, and transformation.
  • Blue Koi – The blue koi symbolize masculity and virility.
  • Red Koi – Red koi symbolize energy.
  • Silver Koi – A silver koi represents success in business and wealth.
  • Gold Koi – The gold Koi represents wealth and prosperity.
  • White Koi – Some of the most important Koi in the world is the white Koi, which has a red spot on the head; these Koi represent patriotism and are a good omen as they symbolize the Japanese flag. A white Koi with red around its mouth represents love and a long-lasting relationship.
  • Pair of Koi – A pair of Koi can represent yin and yang (male and female), representing good luck or a happy marriage. Yin and Yang also symbolize harmony in life.

Interestingly, the koi fish symbol can change from person to person because the koi fish ultimately represent all that is good.

So no matter what the koi fish symbolizes to you, the truth is that the koi fish are and continue to be significant symbols in Japanese culture and throughout the world.

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Anita L Hummel

Hi, I live in Hanoi, Vietnam but spend time traveling the region. I love to share with you things I see and learn through my travels.

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