52 Best Japanese Tattoo Designs With Meanings

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

Reviewed by Brik Rangel, Tattoo Artist Brik Rangel Brik RangelTattoo Artist facebook_iconlinkedin_iconinsta_icon
Written by , MA (Mass Communication) Nisha Baghadia MA (Mass Communication) Experience: 3 years
Edited by , BSc Shatabdi Bhattacharya BSc linkedin_icon Experience: 2.5 years
Fact-checked by , MA (English) Shreya Mukherjee MA (English) linkedin_icon Experience: 2 years
 • 

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 the traditional method, called Tebori, Japanese tattoo artists, known as 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 machine.

Traditional Japanese tattooing involves mainly using the colors black, gray, and red. And its main themes are dragons, samurai, tigers, geishas, and kabuki masks. Inspired by the traditional Japanese tales, these 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.

History Of Japanese Tattoo

Tattoo evidence in Japan dates back to almost 5000 BC, seen in clay figurines called Dogu. However, acquiring tattoos for spiritual or decorative purposes is considered to date back as far as the Jōmon period. Initially a mark or a status of punishment, tattoos evolved into an art form associated with the Yakuza and spiritual symbolism. Despite the historical stigma, contemporary Irezumi enjoys global recognition for its intricate designs and cultural significance.

While Japan has a rich history of tattoos, the controversy about them being legal or illegal in today’s time is still ongoing. So, let’s read about it in detail in the section below and put an end to the constant confusion.

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 legally 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.

protip_icon Trivia
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!

52 Best Japanese Tattoo Ideas And Designs

Check out our list of specially selected Japanese tattoo designs below that are guaranteed to provide you with some good inspiration for your next ink session!

1. Traditional Japanese Tattoo

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Fil Wood (@kodamawabori)

This traditional Japanese samurai tattoo embodies honor, courage, and loyalty. It is rendered in vibrant hues and features the samurai as the main motif with floral elements. The samurai’s stoic visage portrayed with a katana represents resilience and strength.

2. Japanese Back Tattoo

Link:

The sumo irezumi tattoo displays the symbolic expressions of strength and honor. Depicted in rich, colorful inks, the tattoo features iconic motifs such as Japanese terms, koi fish lanterns, and other floral elements. All the woven patterns together signify the wearer’s dedication, resilience, and connection to Japanese cultural heritage.

3. Japanese Neck Tattoo

The Japanese Hannya mask neck tattoo is a striking emblem of tradition and transformation. Crafted with vibrant hues, the design portrays a female demon’s wrath and anguish, symbolizing the complexities of human emotion. The contorted features and piercing eyes are also known for representing the duality of beauty and terror.

4. Japanese Chest Tattoo

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Steven Ho (@inkbysho)


If you have been searching for a bold Japanese tattoo design to flaunt your chest, then the above reference would be the ideal fit! The design features multiple elements, from an oni mask, and skull, to a kitsune mask, thereby combining potent symbolism from traditional folklore. The elements are known for signifying protection from evil spirits, and the cycle of life and death.

5. Japanese Leg Sleeve Tattoo

The above Japanese leg sleeve tattoo design features samurai and peony flowers, embodying a stunning blend of strength and beauty. The samurai symbolizes courage and honor, while the floral elements represent wealth and good health.

6. Small Japanese Tattoo

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Fede (@feddy_tattoo)

Here’s a small Japanese tattoo that anyone seeking a minimalist design can bookmark. It showcases delicate, swirling clouds as the main motif of the tattoo and explores the monochromatic color palette, further giving it a soft touch and humble appearance. In Japanese art, the clouds often represent the transient nature of life.

7. Japanese Tattoo For Men

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by 김재성 (@owall_tattoo)

The bold Japanese tattoo above can be an ideal fit for men, featuring powerful elements like Raijin, the god of thunder and dragon, representing strength and wisdom. Opting for black ink emphasizes the intricate details characteristic of traditional Irezumi.

8. Japanese Leg Tattoo

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Garth B Neale (@garthbneale)

This Japanese leg tattoo featuring koi fish in a deep black hue can surely be a striking choice that symbolizes perseverance and strength. The koi fish, swimming upstream, represents overcoming adversity, while the black ink adds a bold, timeless quality.

9. Japanese Half Sleeve Tattoo

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Guru Tattoo (@gurutattoo)

The blowfish tattoo design masterfully combines vibrantly colored leaves against a cloud-patterned black backdrop, embodying both beauty and foreboding danger. The Koyo leaves, or red leaves signify change in life, and the clouds may signify transience or impermanence of life.

10. Japanese Arm Tattoo

The tattoo design seamlessly merges different elements like cherry blossoms and koi fish in a flowing, colorful artwork and thus embodies a deep appreciation for overcoming challenges with grace and resilience.

11. Japanese Sun Tattoo

The Japanese red sun and samurai tattoo here effortlessly encapsulates deep cultural symbolism and artistic expression. The red sun, representing Japan’s national flag, symbolizes vitality, passion, and strength. While the samurai signifies honor, discipline, and moral integrity.

12. Japanese Word Tattoo

The Japanese word ‘kaizen’ embodies continuous improvement, a core principle in Japanese culture. Compromising ‘kai’ meaning change and ‘zen’ for good, it symbolizes progress, perfection, and the pursuit of excellence.

13. Black And White Japanese Tattoo

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Baki Ots (@baki_ots)

Time to experience the mystique of Japanese folklore with a striking black-and-white tattoo. A graceful frog, symbolizing luck, elegantly perches atop a sleek bat, a harbinger of good fortune and abundance.

14. Japanese Cherry Blossom Trees Tattoo

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Chris Seldon (@chrisseldon)

The Japanese cherry blossom tree tattoo here captures the essence of beauty, violence, and death, signifying the various facets of life. Delicately inked branches adorned with pink blossoms symbolize the vitality of life, as well as the transience of life, making it a versatile tattoo design option.

15. Japanese Thigh Tattoo

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by • Qubiduu • (@qubiduu)

Here’s a beautiful Japanese thigh tattoo flourishing with intricate floral motifs and crafted in humble black and gray ink. The vibrant red cherry blossoms unfurl their elegant petals and add a delicate feminine touch to the overall design. The subtle color palette and soft gradient work further make the design stand out on the wearer’s skin canvas.

16. Japanese Spider Tattoo

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Toni (@tats_by_tonii)

The Japanese spider tattoo design intertwines a geisha’s delicate visage with the intricate body of a spider, thereby creating a captivating fusion of beauty and danger. Furthermore, the vibrant colors breathe life into every stroke and evoke a sense of mystery and daunting allure.

17. Japanese Realism Tattoo

Here is a realistic Japanese tattoo that boldly adorns the entire sleeve of the wearer and ensures it doesn’t go unnoticed by anyone. The masterpiece depicts a stoic samurai and a fierce wolf in harmonious contrast. The design is a testament to resilience and honor, etched on skin with timeless elegance.

18. Japanese Head Tattoo

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Bryn Goodall (@bryn_goodall)

For the daring souls, the above Japanese head tattoo would be the most ideal! The design explores the rich color palette of black and red and covers the iconic Japanese mythical creature – the dragon. Symbolizing strength, wisdom, and protection, the dragon coils dynamically around the wearer’s head and gives birth to an absolute masterpiece.

19. Japanese Dagger Tattoo

The uniqueness of the above Japanese dagger tattoo speaks for itself, the Hannya mask here transforms into a blade, representing inner turmoil and the duality of human nature. The design also offers a smooth fusion of Japanese cultural elements and neo-traditional tattooing style, giving it a touch of classic yet modern flair.

20. Japanese Elephant Tattoo

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by TATTOO DEMON (@tattoodemonco)

The tattoo design features a majestic fusion of Japanese tradition and myth with a vibrant baku elephant creature. Baku is often referred to as a mythical dream-eater that wards off nightmares. This masterpiece embodies good luck and health.

21. Black Japanese Flower Tattoo

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Vir Paiz (@vir.paiz)

The intricate design captures the flower’s delicate petals, accented with bold black ink to evoke a sense of mystery and depth. The tattoo does pure justice to the Chrysanthemum’s alluring beauty and emphasizes every other additional element around as well. Chrysanthemums are known for their meaning and symbolize longevity and rejuvenation.

22. Japanese Dragon Leg Tattoo

Surely we couldn’t skip adding this stunning piece to our reference collection! The sinuous dragon gracefully adorns the leg of the wearer, while the cherry blossoms accompanying it add a touch of femininity and allure.

23. Black Japanese Hand Tattoo

Symbolizing transformation and emotion, this iconic Hanya mask tattoo on both the hands of the wearer effortlessly merges traditional artistry with contemporary style. The mask symbolizes jealousy and obsession, and getting them on hands may signify keeping these emotions in check.

24. Black Japanese Neck Tattoo

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by NINA (@erith_art_)

Here’s a striking black Japanese neck tattoo featuring a majestic crane, signifying longevity, grace, and good luck in Japanese culture. With intricate linework and subtle shading, the body art blends tradition and modernity.

25. Japanese Ocean Tattoo

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Henry Krüger (@henry_kruger)

The above Japanese ocean tattoo depicts vast, serene waters with elements like crashing waves and a mythical creature like a dragon. The design symbolizes strength, resilience, wisdom and the ebb and flow of life.

26. Japanese Wrist Tattoo

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by AL🪐XEA (@altattooistot)

Here’s a minimalist koi fish design on the wrist that anyone seeking a subtle tattoo piece can pin down. Swimming gracefully along the wearer’s wrist, the tattoo reflects the journey of the fish as it swims upstream and symbolizes determination, strength, and perseverance.

27. Japanese Rib Tattoo

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Andreas (@andreastattooworld)

The above Japanese rib tattoo design featuring a traditional geisha surrounded by cherry blossoms embodies alluring beauty and cultural symbolism. It blends seamlessly with the body’s contours, enhancing its appearance and mystique. This intricate artwork pays homage to Japan’s rich artistic heritage and timeless aesthetic appeal.

28. 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.

29. Japanese Samurai Tattoo

Japanese Samurai tattoo design
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.

30. Japanese Crane Tattoo

Japanese crane tattoo design
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.

31. Japanese Geisha Tattoo

Japanese Geisha tattoo design
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.

32. Japanese Sleeve Tattoo

Japanese sleeve tattoo design
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.

33. Japanese Turtle Tattoo

Japanese turtle tattoo design
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.

34. Traditional Japanese Dragon Tattoo

Japanese traditional dragon tattoo design
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.

35. Japanese Tiger Tattoo

Japanese tiger tattoo design
Image: Instagram @henry_skitmore_tattoos

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.

36. Japanese Snake Tattoo

Japanese snake tattoo design
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.

37. Japanese Dragon Forearm Tattoo

Japanese dragon tattoo design on the forearm
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.

38. Japanese Phoenix Tattoo

Japanese Phoenix tattoo design
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.

39. Japanese Wave Tattoo

Japanese wave tattoo design
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.

40. Japanese Koi Tattoo

Japanese koi tattoo design
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.

protip_icon Trivia
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.

41. 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.

42. Japanese Cat Tattoo

Japanese cat tattoo design
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.

43. Japanese Ogre Tattoo

Japanese ogre tattoo design
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.

44. Wizard Samurai Tattoo

Japanese wizard samurai tattoo design
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.

45. Japanese Lotus Tattoo

Japanese lotus tattoo design
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.

46. Japanese Bamboo Tattoo

Japanese bamboo tattoo design
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.

47. Japanese Skull Tattoo

Japanese skull tattoo design
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.

48. Lantern On Tree With Butterflies Tattoo

Japanese lantern on tree with butterflies tattoo design
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.

49. Japanese Floral Tattoo

Japanese floral tattoo design
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.

50. Black And Gray Japanese Dragon Tattoo

Japanese black and gray dragon tattoo design
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.

51. Hannya Mask

Hannya Mask
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.

52. Daruma Doll Tattoo

Daruma Doll Tattoo
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

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?

To use specific colors, the traditional piece has to cover the whole area of the body like the whole arm for example. It needs to have symbols representing Japanese culture along with bold lines.

What flowers are used in Japanese tattoos?

Cherry blossoms, known as Sakura, 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.
52 Best Japanese Tattoo Designs With Meanings

Image: Dall·E/StyleCraze Design Team


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

Was this article helpful?
thumbsupthumbsdown
Brik Rangel

Brik RangelTattoo Artist

Brik Rangel is a highly skilled tattoo artist who has 12 years of experience in the field. She specializes in transformative tattoo makeovers and cover-ups. After honing her craft in São Paulo, Brazil, she now works as a tattoo artist and manager at Manhattan Tattoos in New York, and as a tattoo artist at Divine Tattoos in New Jersey. She...read full bio

Latest Articles