Koi Fish Symbolism And Meaning: What Do Koi Fish Represent?

Adored for their beautiful appearance with vibrant colors worldwide, koi fish have been known to be prominent symbols in some cultures like Chinese and Japanese. With multiple deep symbolic meanings attached to them, koi fish imagery has been widely used in Asian art and design, in various forms, for a very long time. Let us get right into it then, here is everything you should know about koi fish symbolism, the legend behind the symbol and the spiritual meaning and religious importance of the koi fish.

Koi Fish Symbolism and Meaning, What Do Koi Fish Represent - A Koi Fish Illustration
A Beautiful Illustration of a Koi Fish by HNS Creative Studio

Koi Fish Meaning

Koi is basically the Japanese word for carp that originated in the early 18th century. But, a deeper investigation tells us that the word koi is a “homophone” for another Japanese word which means affection.

This is why the Japanese see this colorful fish as a symbol of love, affection, and friendship. However, this is not the only symbolic interpretation of koi fish; there are several more.

Koi fish are heavily associated with courage, strength, and determination because of their unique capability (and habit) of swimming against the current and upstream. For this reason, they are often associated with Samurai warriors in Japan.

Koi fish are also commonly believed to represent success, good luck, and prosperity. They also symbolize non-conformity and perseverance.

The Legend Behind Koi Fish Symbolism

While there are multiple legends associated with koi fish in Asian cultures, most of the symbolic meanings attached to koi fish stem from ancient Chinese mythology.

According to Chinese folklore, a large group of golden koi was once schooling in the Yellow River. They kept swimming together against the current, building and displaying power and perseverance until they reached a very big waterfall, now called the Dragon Gate.

The waterfall seemed impossible to cross, and most of the Koi in that group turned back and flowed back with the current.

But, some determined Koi fish stayed back and kept trying to make their way up through the waterfall. Legend has it that the tiny group of golden Koi kept trying for a hundred years, and then one fine day, one of them successfully swam through the waterfall and reached the top.

Seeing this long struggle and the undying dedication and determination of the Koi, the gods turned that successful fish into a dragon. That waterfall is famously called Dragon’s Gate due to this legend.

Koi Fish Spiritual Meaning and Religious Importance

There are also various spiritual and religious connotations attached to the resilient koi fish. In feng shui, it is believed to bring peace, calm, and tranquillity to its surroundings.

Feng shui practitioners and experts strongly recommend keeping a Koi in the house because they believe the positive energy that this fish radiates helps improve family relationships, making them stronger. Buddhists, on the other hand, view Koi as a symbol of persistence and perseverance.

In the spiritual realm, koi is seen as a reminder of life’s struggles. Just like the koi traversed through the dangerous waters of Yellow River (as per the legend) to achieve its goal and the way it remains persistent while swimming against the current, in general, humans have to go through the difficult phases of life to emerge stronger and get successful.

Therefore, koi fish is one of the most beautiful spiritual symbols of strength and perseverance.

Another spiritual interpretation of koi is that it symbolizes the need to remain focused on your ultimate goal: enlightenment of the soul, no matter how difficult things get or how stormy the sea of life becomes.

Koi Fish Tattoo Meaning

Koi fish is an immensely popular tattoo design. Like the fish itself has many meanings as a symbol, a koi fish tattoo can also denote different things depending on how it is drawn, i.e. the direction it is shown swimming.

Upwards Koi Fish Tattoo

A koi fish tattoo that shows the koi swimming upwards or upstream can represent two things:

  1. You are fighting a battle with courage and determined to win it. It is a sign that you are not going to give up.
  2. You have successfully overcome an obstacle and have emerged as a much stronger person. The upwards moving koi fish tattoo is also an emblem of the strength you have gained from your struggle(s) to keep pushing and moving ahead against the current.

Downwards Koi Fish Tattoo

A tattoo featuring koi fish swimming downwards can also represent two things:

  1. You are still unclear about your goals or lack the strength to work towards them by going against the current.
  2. You have successfully achieved all that you wanted and are now in a place where you are happy, satisfied, and content with your life. A downward moving koi fish design shows that you are no longer moving against the current.

Dragon Koi Fish Meaning

When it comes to koi fish designs, particularly in the tattoo industry, drawings that combine a koi and a dragon are highly popular.

This particular design is inspired by the ancient Chinese legend of the Yellow River and symbolizes transformation, growth, and rebirth. It denotes how bearing difficulties can transform you into a stronger being and give you the opportunity for a fresh start.

Black Koi Fish Meaning

Black koi fish represent masculinity and fatherhood or a patriarchal role. Moreover, it is a symbol of change and transformation and denotes the successful overcoming of an obstacle.

Blue Koi Fish Meaning

Blue colored koi symbolizes peace and tranquillity. However, it is also often linked with men’s fertility. In Japanese culture, the blue koi is the symbol of the son(s).

Red Koi Fish Meaning

Red koi is associated with multiple things. It is a symbol of deep, passionate love but can also denote strength and courage.

A red or orange-colored koi fish is commonly associated with motherhood and is traditionally used in Asian cultures (Japanese in particular) to represent the family’s mother.  A pink koi, on the other hand, is associated with the daughter of the family.

Gold Koi Fish Meaning

Gold koi fish is considered a symbol of success, wealth, and prosperity and is often associated with professional success.

This is the end of our piece on koi fish symbolism and the spiritual and other meanings behind the symbol. If you liked reading it, you should definitely check out our articles on butterfly symbolism here and frog symbolism here.

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