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Does it mean anything when a koi fish is swimming up or down on a tattoo?

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Direction of a Koi Tattoo Here are opinions and input from FAQ Farmers on whether the direction of the koi fish is significant:
  • SOMEONE ACTUALLY SAID THIS: "Yes - when a koi is swimming up on a tattoo it means that the person is either very sexual and/or homosexual. If the koi is swimming down it means the person is either wanting to give or receive oral (based on if it is a man or woman that has the tattoo)." I have a traditional koi fish tattooed on the side of my stomach. It does not in any way, shape, or form, represent being horny, or being gay, or wanting to preform/receive oral sex. I actually laughed out loud when reading this answer. This is a perfect example of why you should not go to a site to find the symbolism of a tattoo. A tattoo is whatever it means to you. Many traditional tattoos do have historical symbolism, such as the koi fish, but in all reality the symbolism is unique to every person - or just isn't there. However, I am very, very, very sure that there is in no way enough of a belief that koi fishes mean you're horny to be it's "symbolism." I'm going to take an educated guess and say that every single one of the answers below will answer your question with 2938592859 times more reliability than the above quoted answer.
  • My best friend has a koi fish tattoo. She's half-Japanese and she says that if the koi is swimming down, it means that you're trying to overcome hardships and if it's swimming up, you have already overcome them.
  • It would make more sense if it were the opposite. Up = Overcoming Hardships (example - swimming upstream in a battle against the current). Down = accomplished the goal (example - swimming downstream...finally succeeding through the hardship). This is my vote. *edit* I would like to disagree, i believe that if the koi is swimming upstream it has gained strength (by overcoming hardships) and can tackle the wheight of the current. If the koi is swimming downstream then it has not yet gained the strength to swim against the current rendering it weaker.
  • According to Japanese legend, if a koi succeeded in climbing the falls at a point called 'Dragon Gate on the Yellow River' it would be transformed into a dragon. Based on that legend, it became a symbol of worldly aspiration and advancement.
  • There aren't any specific or concrete meanings for certain tattoo symbols. For example: A cross to some may be just be a cross. But to others, there's a religious meaning. Remember, sometimes a rose is just a rose. It doesn't mean or symbolize anything!
  • Actually, in traditional Eastern tattooing, especially the Japanese art of Horimono, the symbolism is important in the direction of travel of the koi and the items with it in the water or subsequent background. The koi that has been surrounded by late season fauna such as maple leaves, etc. and is pointed downwards is intended to denote the fall. A koi pointing upwards surrounded by cherry blossoms or other early blossoming things denotes the spring. You'll note that many fish travel those directions up and down rivers and streams based on those pesky seasonal changes.
  • As a general rule you almost never want to get a tattoo that faces towards your back. If you notice almost all of the arm or side tattoos that you will see will be facing the front. There is always an exception. Whether the fish is swimming up or down I am not sure. But really it doesn't matter what it means to anyone else, just what it means to you.

  • There is some confusion about the legend of the Koi swimming up the waterfall at the dragon gate on the yellow river. I have heard both that it is Chinese and that it is Japanese. I'm not sure which, perhaps both. *edit: Koi do originate from China and were later introduced to Japan in the 1800s. So, I see why there would be mixed messages.*


- Koi's swimming downstream are considered bad luck. The legend is a koi swimming upstream turns into a dragon. It is good luck.
as far as upstream vs. down

upstream means that you are still fighting or struggling


downstream means that your hardships have been overcome and no longer fighting the current


also if there is a dragon incorporated into your tat it signifies that the dragons gate falls have been successfully achieved also meaning that you have achieved your goals or overcome your hardships


traditional ink holds to this criteria, however most who now get this tat just go with what they think looks cool and forget about the meanings of what they get.


i have a koi backpiece and hold true to the traditional and laugh at some people who have chosen colorwise, whiskers, and other elements incorporated into their ink because they sometimes don't realize how screwed up the meaning of it is



the direction of the koi, being toward the head or toward the foot is not as important as the direction of the water it is in... the koi facing up stream, regardless of the directionality toward the head or foot is a sign of determination and endurance.. the continuing battle to overcome adversity... the koi facing down stream does not signify failure and giving up.. it is a sign peace with tranquility.. the same way fish gather in still water to feed.. i hope this helps..
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What does a koi fish tattoo symbolize?

Koi Tattoos: According to Japanese legend, if a koi succeeded in climbing the falls at a point called Dragon Gate on the Yellow River, it would be transformed into a dragon.

What does a Japanese koi fish tattoo symbolizes?

Koi Fish meaning in Japan is good fortune or luck they also are associated with perseverance in adversity and strength of purpose. Symbolic in Buddhism to represent courage.

What does the direction of a koi fish mean in tattooing?

Well koi fish symbolise strength and courage, and the legend and myth behind the koi fish is that it swims upstream to turn into a dragon. The Dragon symbolises the end of a j

What does a koi fish and dragon tattoo symbolize?

Koi: There is a Japanese/Nihongo myth that says if a koi fish is capable of climbing the walls of a waterfall, a point called "Dragon Gate of Yellow River" that it would be tr

What does the colors of koi tattoos mean?

The colour of a koi tattoo may have personal meaning to the person getting it, or a generalised colour meaning could be used, as in red for passion or love, blue for calm etc.

Should a koi fish tattoo face up or down?

Actually it's bad luck for a Koi to going "downstream" for a tattoo. (it's not actually bad luck, it's considered that you are trying to overcome any hardships and that t

What does a tattoo of two koi fish symbolize?

Answer   In Ancient Chinese legend, a tale has it that any Koi fish that overcame the turbulent,dangerous waters of the falls at Dragon gate would be transformed into a

What do the colors of koi fish tattoos symbolize?

  Answer   The Koi is symbolic with family. On Childrens Day Koi flags are raised, Black Koi the father, Orange/Red mother, Blue/White for a boy, red/pink for a girl.

What does it mean to dream of koi fish swimming around the moon?

Both the moon and the koi have rich varieties of symbolic meaning, so the dreamer of this specific dream will need to discern how the metaphor in this dream applies to his/her

What does it mean when your fish is swimming upside down?

If you do not own a specific type of catfish that swims upside-down, then your fish has a problem with it's swim bladder. You should fast your fish for 3 days, then begin feed

What can go with a koi fish tattoo?

depending on where it is, you can put a dragon above it as in Japanese mythology a koi is a baby dragon that transforms once it makes it up a stream (I can't remember which pa

What does a koi swimming down stream mean?

A koi would generally be depicted swimming upstream, not down. According to Japanese legend, once a koi swims over the falls at the 'Dragon Gate on the Yellow River' it would

What does the direction of a koi fish tattoo mean?

The koi fish swimming up stream means the person is currently in a  battle or struggle and are still fighting obstacles but wont give  up. They have overcome obstacles and h