Consider These Lesser-known Japanese Tattoo Motifs

Japanese Tattoo

The tattoo culture in the world has grown significantly over the years. New approaches to tattooing have improved the quality of the pieces and created more room for creativity. 

Despite all the developments, traditional motifs echo in modern tattoo designs. One of the most popular and influential designs is the Japanese tattoo.

Like most Eastern cultures, the Japanese used tattoos as spiritual symbols. The designs donned mythical creatures with bold colours.

Irezumi (traditional Japanese tattooing) has a long history, but it only received global attention in the 20th century when the Eastern and Western cultures collided. Although there is much information on Irezumi, here are lesser-known facts about Japanese tattoo motifs.


Kitsune is a popular mythical creature in Japanese folklore. It resembles a fox and is believed to have supernatural powers.

Kitsune is often portrayed as a trickster or a messenger of the gods. The creature can shape-shift into human form and is often depicted as a seductive and alluring woman. The tattoos are frequently used to convey a sense of mischief or cunning.


One is a demon or ogre in Japanese mythology. They are often depicted with sharp teeth, horns and wild hair.

Oni is believed to punish those who commit evil deeds; therefore, they are popularly used to convey strength and power. Onijin is an all-powerful creature regarded as the king of Oni and the ultimate symbol of protection.


The Daruma doll is a traditional Japanese piece that’s seen as a symbol of good luck and perseverance. The doll is red or orange and usually has a round shape.

One of the eyes on the doll is left blank, and it’s believed that the owner must make a wish and fill in the eye when their wish comes true. Daruma tattoos are a symbol of determination and resilience.


Kirin is a mythical creature often depicted as having the body of a deer or horse with a dragon’s head. It’s believed to bring good luck and prosperity. Furthermore, Kirin’s tattoos convey a sense of elegance and grace.

Koi Fish

Koi fish are often used in Japanese tattoos to symbolise perseverance and determination. In Japanese mythology, it is believed that a koi fish that can swim upstream and jump over the Dragon Gate will be transformed into a dragon.

Kintaro, a Japanese folklore, also describes the story of a young boy who killed a giant Koi fish to avenge the death of a fisherman. The Koi fish tattoos symbolise ambition, perseverance and bravery.  


Samurai were members of a Japanese warrior class from the 12th to the 19th century. They were known for their loyalty, bravery and honour. The motif is used in modern tattoos to mark strength and courage.


Yokai are supernatural creatures from Japanese folklore represented as grotesque and terrifying beings. They are associated with fire and summer, a season when the spiritual and human realms interact.

Yokai can be good or evil and is often depicted as mischievous or playful. The tattoos are most popular among lovers of Japanese mythology.


A Hanya is a mask worn in traditional Japanese theatre. It is believed to represent a woman consumed by sorry, envy and anger to the point she takes the form of a demon.

Although the origin of the mask is dark, the name Hanya means wisdom, and the mask also serves as a symbol of good luck. Hanya tattoos represent passion and good fortune. 


Raijin is a god of thunder, lightning and storms in Japanese mythology. He is often depicted with drums that he uses to create thunder. The tattoos are popular among artists who want to convey power and energy.


Tengu are supernatural beings from Japanese folklore, depicted as having long noses and impeccable skills in martial arts. The tattoos are used to convey wisdom and strength. The tengu tattoo is also worn as a sign of good fortune. 

Japanese tattoos have unique designs with innumerable options. Make your pick today and explore their beauty. 

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