13 Best Traditional Japanese tattoo designs and their meaning 

Due to their being bold and expressive, Traditional Japanese tattoo designs have gained popularity all around the world. These inkings are captivating and engaging because of the vivid colors and intriguing shading. Common designs feature legendary creatures like dragons and phoenixes, nature, animals, and the paranormal.

The iconography utilized is frequently a way to honor folklore or tradition. This method, albeit impressive, is nevertheless clouded in debate. The Yakuza gang is known for its extensive body inking, which they use to display their tenacity and toughness. Because of this, tattoos are frowned upon in Japan. Learn everything there is to know about this powerful method.

Here are the explanations for the most well-known traditional Japanese tattoo meanings and patterns. They all have ancient, conventional meanings derived from mythology, legends, and folklore. All of the traditional Japanese tattoos must be hand-drawn and made by skilled tattoo artists.

1. Kappa Tattoo 

traditional japanese tattoo design

A monster turtle and enormous salamanders coming out of the shallow water to grab anyone nearby are two more common Japanese tattoo designs. This notion has led to stereotypes of Kappas as troublemakers and lawbreakers. It seems that they enjoy kidnapping infants and assaulting women, which is beyond fantastical and a pretext for the criminal outcasts.

We do not know why these tattoos are so popular among foreigners, but we presume that most people are unaware of the significance of the Turtle tattoos. The small hollow filled with water on top of the turtle’s skull is the tattoo’s most striking design element. When the cavity is dry, the turtle is rendered helpless.

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2. Crane Tattoo 

traditional japanese tattoo design

The crane is revered in Japan and is regarded as a representation of hope and peace. Additionally, it is revered and appreciated for being an unearthly creature and has been the focus of intriguing legends. The bird is a symbol of longevity and wisdom as well as good fortune and luck. Typically intricate, the artwork could also have other images like a sun or flowers.

Therefore, a placement choice with an appropriate room to accommodate these elements is needed. The arm or thighs are fantastic places since you can create bright, vibrant artwork there and because you can see them frequently.

3. Cat Tattoo

traditional japanese tattoo design

Since cats are frequently linked to riches and luck, they are excellent tattoo subjects. There are several methods to design your cat tattoo; some individuals choose the more conventional route, while others can choose to highlight aspects of Japanese culture that they find appealing. This may include everything from the food and clothing to the tattoo design. Your design must not be insulting, and it is recommended to stay away from holy and religious imagery.

4. Hebi Irezumi Tattoos 

traditional japanese tattoo design


Hebi means snake in Japanese, while irezumi denotes tattooing. The oriental conception of a snake is frequently shown in Japanese snake tattoos. Nevertheless, because snakes are known for losing their skin, the snake in Japanese culture is associated with rebirth, transformation, and change. If the snake is white, Japanese tattoos of snakes can also be a lucky charm.

However, it is said to be a particularly terrible omen if the tattoo features a black or dead snake. Since it seems that these areas best display the imagery, the shoulder, arm, and chest area are frequently the locations for snake tattoos.

5. Ryu Tattoo 

traditional japanese tattoo design

The most popular Japanese tattoo is this one. The Japanese dragon represents goodwill, blessings, strength, and wisdom. The symbolism derives from the folktale that dragons have the power to control nature and use it for the betterment of mankind.

Japanese dragon tattoos typically come in a variety of designs, so the dragon may have a camel’s head, a snake or fish’s body, an eagle’s talons, etc. It typically consists of parts from various animals or fantastical beings and takes up a sizable portion of the body, most frequently the upper and lower back, shoulder area, and upper thighs.

6. Hou-ou Tattoos

traditional japanese tattoo design 


A representation of the imperial family in Japan is the phoenix. Because of this, the meaning of Japanese phoenix tattoos frequently centers on traits associated with the imperial system, such as obedience, justice, fire, and the sun, among others.

The phoenix can also represent good and bad times, harmony and discord, and harmony and discord. The phoenix is sometimes shown in fairly large tattoos; it has a longer neck, remarkably enormous wings, and frequently incorporates the color scheme of fire and sun.

7. Karajishi Tattoos

traditional japanese tattoo design

The Japanese lion tattoo differs significantly from what you might anticipate. In these tattoos, the lion resembles a cross between a dog and a lion, with the dog having more angular ears. As a result, the symbolism of a tattoo like this frequently combines the meanings of the lion and the dog. The symbolism frequently makes reference to valor, bravery, defense, strength, loyalty, etc.

In Japanese culture, the dog and the lion both symbolize one’s desire to be a hero and the urge to defend others. Japanese lion tattoos can be little or large, and they look best on the calf and thigh, as well as the shoulder and arm area, especially the forearm.

8. Cherry Blossom Tattoo

traditional japanese tattoo design

Among the most lovely flowers, cherry blossoms are a wonderful addition to any landscape due to their charming pink color. However, because they do not live for very long, the bloom serves as a metaphor for life and its transience.

Due to its beauty and symbolic value, the flower is frequently utilized in Irezumi. It is also associated with power and endurance. The cherry blossom season in Japan is when the blossoms bloom and it is a period that is celebrated; as a result, it can also be connected to happiness.

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9. Koi Tattoos 

traditional japanese tattoo design

One of the most well-known legends in both Chinese and Japanese culture is the one about a koi fish that swims upstream until it reaches the top of a waterfall, at which point it turns into a dragon.

The koi fish is a traditional Japanese representation of riches, success, the capacity to overcome challenges, fortitude, and tenacity. The meanings associated with the Koi fish tattoo might vary depending on its color, including those associated with masculinity, motherhood, strength, bravery, independence, prosperity, riches, desire, etc.

10. Dragon Tattoo

traditional japanese tattoo design

Since they are so intriguing and meaningful, dragon tattoos are among the most popular tattoo designs. The mythical creature is highly revered in Japanese culture and stands for bravery, strength, and knowledge. This contrasts sharply with what dragons are commonly associated with in the West, where they are viewed as wicked or greedy.

The arm or leg are excellent locations for placing because the creature appears to be wrapping around your limbs; this allows for a particularly intriguing inking. Additionally, there are a variety of hues available, each with a distinct meaning. While yellow dragons are dignified, black is connected with wisdom, and green with nature. Red and black make a really striking combination, but you can choose which appeals to you the most.

11. Letter Tattoo

traditional japanese tattoo design 

Occasionally people want to get a word or phrase tattooed on them but do not want others to be able to understand its meaning quickly. Foreign languages and symbols are frequently preferred because of this. Beautiful as it is, kanji also makes for an intriguing and symbolic tattoo.

Nevertheless, there are certain disadvantages to choosing this style of design. It is simple to get anything tattooed on you that has a completely different meaning than what you had in mind if you haven’t done enough research and don’t grasp the language. This might also be a method to respect Japanese culture if it inspires you.

12. Sun Tattoo 

traditional japanese tattoo design

The striking crimson image of the rising sun in Japan has been employed in flags and is a representation of a divinity, bravery, and vitality. For some, it serves as a representation of the nation.

There are numerous variations, some of which have soldiers while others have waves or temples. But that is a highly contentious image. This design may be extremely offensive to some people. It served as the military’s flag and, for the nations that were invaded at the time, it symbolizes a very terrible period in history.

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13. Lion Tattoo

traditional japanese tattoo design

Many people view lion tattoos as symbols of courage, royalty, and strength, however, lions are not portrayed in Japan the way they are in the African plains. Instead, they have a legendary appearance that is both menacing and characterized by their pointed ears and wispy mane.

They are typical statues that stand at the entrance to significant locations and are intended to stave off evil and provide security. The message of your body art may be the same. For those who desire something fierce and powerful to keep them safe and serve as a reminder to stay on the right road, it is a strong design that is frequently depicted with its teeth bared.

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