25 Best Japanese Tattoo Designs With Meanings

Check out these aesthetic, elegant, and symbolic designs before you hit the parlor.

Written by Nisha Baghadia, MA (Mass Communication)
Edited by Shatabdi Bhattacharya, BSc
Fact-checked by Shreya Mukherjee, MA (English)  • 

Japanese tattoo designs are well-known across the globe for their unique and artistic style. Known as Irezumi, the traditional form of Japanese tattooing uses a special ink known as Zumi.

In this method, Japanese tattoo artists, called Horishi, use wooden sticks and some long needles attached to the silk thread to practice the art form. Given the precision and time it consumes, this traditional tattooing requires many apprentices. The method is also costlier than the regular ones that use an electrical tattoo gun.

Traditional Japanese tattooing involves mainly using the colors black and gray, and dragons, samurai, tigers, geishas, and kabuki masks are some of the popular designs made.

However, in the modern day and age, finding a tattoo artist who makes traditional Japanese tattoos is difficult, given the firm laws passed in the past against the practice. In fact, most traditional artists of Irezumi live a secret life to stay away from government inquiry.

Is Tattooing Illegal In Japan?

In the early Meiji period, the Japanese government, in order to maintain its cultural image and avoid western mockery, banned tattooing. Irezumi then became a sign of criminals. However, the tattoo artists kept this art form tradition going secretly.

Irezumi was regally revived after the Second World War in 1948, but it was still associated with terrorism.  Although tattoos have regained their popularity, the stigma against them continues. Except for tourist areas, it is difficult to locate a tattoo shop in Japan. In fact, recently, the mayor of Osaka passed a verdict that any worker or official with tattoos on visible body parts had to be replaced.

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Tattooing is viewed as expressive folk art and is mentioned in ancient Japanese texts dating back to 297 AD. Japanese tattoos are also considered the oldest style of tattooing.

Regardless of the Japanese law’s view on tattooing, there’s no denying that these tattoos look absolutely stunning. Check out our list of the most gorgeous Japanese tattoos to get inked on your body. Keep scrolling!

Best Japanese Tattoo Designs And Meanings

1. Japanese Dragon Tattoo

Japanese dragon tattoo design on arm
Image: Instagram @sylvan_grey_tattoos

Dragons symbolize compassionate force. They denote insight and strength and are believed to promote the overall betterment of manhood. It is one of the most iconic Japanese style tattoos, often featured across large expanses of areas like the back, arms, or thighs.

This stunning dragon tattoo is a detailed piece of art. The light pink wash of color makes it look even more appealing. The fierce look on the dragon’s face contrasts beautifully with the pretty blooming flowers, giving a feminine touch to the design.

2. Japanese Samurai Tattoo

Image: Instagram @michaelrasetti

A samurai tattoo represents integrity, admiration, service, valor, and devotion. These warriors protected the citizens of Japan from any attackers.

This classic design portrays a battle scene in which a samurai is riding a horse and fighting a dragon. The rich color palette, along with the well-defined outline, makes it a unique masterpiece. It will look perfect down the full length of your leg.

3. Japanese Crane Tattoo

Image: Instagram

Also known as Senbazuru, cranes are said to represent prosperity and endurance. This enchanting back piece of an open-winged crane standing on a pink lotus flower is mesmerizing. The detailed design and use of dusk colors make this piece even more alluring. This is the perfect tattoo to sport on your upper back.

4. Japanese Geisha Tattoo

Image: Instagram @chronicink

A geisha tattoo represents feminine power. It stands for mystery, beauty, and secrecy.

This beautiful tattoo of a geisha unveiling her face from a cat mask is beyond gorgeous. Her floral headgear and the tattoo on her neck elevate this design. If you like intriguing designs, this is the perfect tattoo for you. Get this tattoo done by a seasoned artist with expertise in portraits.

5. Japanese Sleeve Tattoo

Image: Instagram @monkey_irezumi

Looking for a meaningful tattoo to cover your full sleeve? Try this cool Japanese design with intricate shading. This full-sleeve tattoo features a number of beautifully drawn fish in waves, topped with the head of an ogre. This monotone tattoo with extensive use of shadowing and highlights is one of the original Japanese tattoo designs.

6. Japanese Turtle Tattoo

Image: Instagram @davidronin_tattoos

In Japanese culture, turtle tattoos (Minogame)represent wisdom, durability, fortune, and security.

This unique turtle tattoo is one of a kind. The use of Roman numbers on the rim of the shell to make it look like a clock adds a touch of intrigue to this tattoo. This makes for a great tattoo sleeve.

7. Traditional Japanese Dragon Tattoo

Image: Instagram @bornholdtatto

The traditional Japanese tattoos were usually done in black, and the extensive use of shading set them apart from other tattoo styles. This delightful design of a dragon uncoiling on the full length of the back is breathtaking.

8. Japanese Tiger Tattoo

A tiger symbolizes fierceness, energy, and confidence. This beautiful outline tattoo of a tiger slowly rising to pounce on its prey is as magnificent as it gets. The detailed sketching brings its terrorizing eyes to life.

9. Japanese Snake Tattoo

Image: Instagram

The Japanese snake tattoo (Hebi) symbolizes a shield against calamity and ailment. Some people also use it to represent knowledge, fortune, and change.

The alluring black snake and red chrysanthemums featured in this full body tattoo are absolutely mesmerizing.

10. Japanese Dragon Forearm Tattoo

Image: Instagram

The forearm is the best place to flaunt your tattoo. This classic black and gray dragon design is a symbol of power. This beautifully shaded dragon in dark hues will add a touch of mystery to your look.

11. Japanese Phoenix Tattoo

Image: Instagram @arranburton

Though the phoenix originates from Greek mythology, it has been adopted by other cultures as well. This symbol of reincarnation and immortality is an elegant choice for your arm. The bright color palette, paired with the classic Japanese painting style, makes it the perfect design to be etched on your skin.

12. Japanese Wave Tattoo

Image: Instagram

A wave tattoo symbolizes mobility, flexibility, power, and life. This gorgeous design featuring high sea waves is great for anyone who is a free spirit. The spray of water done with white dots lends this tattoo a three-dimensional effect.

13. Japanese Koi Tattoo

Image: Instagram @vin_dambro13

The koi symbolizes will power, strength, and bravery. According to legend, the koi is the only fish that can swim upstream. If it reaches the Dragon’s Gate, the Gods turn the koi into a golden dragon. Thus, the koi fish is said to represent perseverance and progress. This colorful representation of the koi fish swimming upstream represents the message of the tattoo loud and clear.

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The meaning and symbolism of a koi tattoo depend on the fish’s orientation and colors. For example, a red koi tattoo symbolizes intense love – for your family or important persons around you.

14. Japanese Fish Tattoo

Japanese fish tattoo design
Image: Instagram @jona.ppetit

This beautiful design of a goldfish has been done with a simple outline and monochrome hues, giving it that touch of classic Japanese art style. The five swimming fish of various sizes will make your body look like an ocean. This is the perfect design to etch on your upper back.

15. Japanese Cat Tattoo

Image: Instagram @justice_ink999

A cat tattoo symbolizes knowledge, understanding, and connection with the Almighty. This typical Japanese art piece featuring two cats performing human-like activities is perfect for the whimsical souls out there. If you are a cat lover, this is the perfect tattoo to sport on your arm.

16. Japanese Ogre Tattoo

Image: Instagram @diao_wen_tattoo0620

Also known as Oni, this Japanese creature represents power over injustice. This detailed sketch of an ogre clenching its teeth against a background of a golden dragon will turn your skin into an authentic Japanese art masterpiece.

17. Wizard Samurai Tattoo

Image: Instagram @stupagdintattooer

This beautiful tattoo of a wizard samurai holding up his staff is a masterpiece in itself. Get this tattoo done in rich colors down the full length of your leg to create a breathtaking piece of body art.

18. Japanese Lotus Tattoo

Image: Instagram @sonerkurak

The lotus tattoo symbolizes love and passion. The beautiful use of color on two sides of each petal makes this design look almost three-dimensional. It is the perfect tattoo to sport on the back of your arm.

19. Japanese Bamboo Tattoo

Image: Instagram

The bamboo plant symbolizes the strength and durability to overcome hurdles. This simple yet classy design of fresh bamboo shoots with tiny leaves is the perfect tattoo to adorn your skin. The subtle shading adds to the serenity of the design.

20. Japanese Skull Tattoo

Image: Instagram @oldriottattoo

Also known as Zugaikotsu, the Japanese skull tattoo represents life, demise, alteration, and respect for the dead. Unlike other skull tattoos, the Japanese art style provides a more cerebral display of the skull. If you are goth at heart, this colorful twin skulls tattoo with vivid shading is perfect for you.

21. Lantern On Tree With Butterflies Tattoo

Image: Instagram @john_mazurek

A lantern tattoo represents happiness, festivity, and victory of good over evil. This soothing design of lanterns and butterflies against light blue clouds portrays the joy of festivals.

22. Japanese Floral Tattoo

Image: Instagram @shiyu_tattoo

Different flowers symbolize different aspects of life in Japanese culture. The peony holds a prestigious place in Japanese culture and is considered the king of flowers. The cherry blossom symbolizes compassion and gratitude. This colorful tattoo of blooming flowers in vivid hues is the perfect choice for anyone looking for a feminine tattoo.

23. Black And Gray Japanese Dragon Tattoo

Image: Instagram @hillmaninktattoos

Like the original Japanese dragon tattoo design, this neutral-toned dragon tattoo has a distinct outline and captures the expression of the dragon in vivid detail. The positioning of the tattoo on the bicep adds to its overall magnificence.

Other than these mesmerizing tattoos, if you want to sport a simple yet meaningful tattoo you could also get your favorite Japanese phrases and quotes written in calligraphy or kanji.

24. Hannya Mask

Hannya Mask
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Image: Shutterstock

The Hannya Mask is a widely used tattoo design that has its roots in Noh theater in Japan. It is a representation of a female demon or snake that has two horns resembling a bull’s horns, metallic eyes, and a leering mouth with fang-like teeth. It can be inked in a range of colors, with the darkest red representing true demons. This mask is believed to symbolize the complexities of human emotions, particularly those associated with jealousy, anger, and internal conflict.

25. Daruma Doll Tattoo

Daruma Doll Tattoo
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Image: Shutterstock

Please superimpose one image on the other to make it look like a tattoo.
Daruma tattoos are a type of art that pays homage to the Japanese Daruma dolls. These dolls are modeled after the Buddhist monk Bodhidharmat. They are a symbol of good fortune, wealth, and contentment. The tattoo serves as a metaphor for resilience, perseverance, and dedication to achieving one’s goals.

Infographic: Things To Discuss With The Artist Before Getting Your First Tattoo

Tattoos are cool. People get tattoos of things that mean something significant to them – they are a form of self-expression. Many of us get a tattoo simply because it looks aesthetic. These days tattoos are also offered as cosmetic solutions to cover scars and marks. The reasons for getting tattoos are plenty. However, you must always research good studios and artists. Once you shortlist a few places, book a consultation with them to know what you are getting into.

Check out the infographic below to learn about things to discuss with the tattoo artist about before the procedure.

11 things to discuss with the artist before getting your first tattoo (infographic)

Illustration: StyleCraze Design Team

Get the high-quality PDF version of this infographic.

Download Infographic in PDF version

Traditional Japanese tattoo designs are world-famous for their unique designs and artistic style. Unlike regular tattoos, these tattoos are inked with wooden sticks and long needles attached to silk thread. Therefore, it is costlier than normal tattoos. Though it is no longer illegal to tattoo in Japan, there is still a stigma associated with tattoo art. However, the Japanese tattoo designs are stunning and gorgeous. The 23 designs listed above provide a clear idea about the different types of designs popular in the country, like the dragon, Samurai, geisha, or turtle tattoos.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the rules of Japanese tattoos?

Using unique bright colors, coloring the whole arm, and having symbols representing the Japanese culture are a few rules of Japanese tattoos.

What flowers are used in Japanese tattoos?

Cherry blossoms are mostly used in Japanese tattoos.

What does a frog mean in Japanese tattoos?

In Japanese tattoos, the frog symbolizes lifelong abundance, luck, and prosperity. It is considered the God of the rainfall and ensures the harvest.

Key Takeaways

  • Irezumi is the traditional form of Japanese tattooing that uses a wooden stick with needles attached to it and a special ink called Zumi to create designs.
  • Traditional Japanese tattoos commonly use black and gray colors to make stunning designs.
  • Some of the most popular Japanese tattoos feature motifs such as dragons which symbolize power, strength, and insight. They are often placed on areas such as the thighs, back, or arms.

Find out the different backgrounds and styles of Japanese tattoos. and learn about the history and meaning behind these tattoos. Check out the video.
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