The Symbolism and Myth Behind the Koi Fish

The koi fish is renowned for its good luck and beauty. But what is less commonly known about this graceful fish?

We’ve covered symbolism before – flowers and jewelry, particularly in the Victorian era. But here’s one symbol that has lasted to this day.

Art by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, (1798 - 1861)

Art by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, (1798 – 1861)

In Japan and other Asian cultures, on top of gracing ponds with their beauty, koi fish have a lot of hidden meaning behind them. This particular fish is seen as the example of many celebrated qualities.

In the early 1900s, a koi craze swept the nation of Japan and subsequently spread to the rest of the world.

It’s worth mentioning that the Japanese use “koi” as a general term for all carp, but the rest of the world uses the word for one certain colored kind of Japanese carp.

The term “living jewels” has been applied to koi. Koi are known to symbolize friend and romantic love, as well as strength and courage.

One Japanese or Chinese legend tells the story of a koi climbing a waterfall on the Yellow River toward the Dragon’s Gate at the top of the falls. Many carp would try to swim through the water, but few would be brave enough to make the final stretch up the waterfall. If a carp was able to finish the journey through the Dragon’s Gate, it would be transformed into a powerful dragon.

Through this story, the koi has also become a figure for perseverance and bravery.

A Chinese porcelain piece from the Ming Dynasty featuring koi fish.

A Chinese porcelain piece from the Ming Dynasty featuring koi fish.

Most traditionally, the koi fish is seen as lucky.

Of course, koi fish tattoos are quite popular today for their symbolism. And there’s plenty of koi fish collectibles and art out there for those who want to celebrate this beautiful fish.

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