A Coy Subject: The Three Elements That Help You Decode The Symbolism In Koi Fine Art Prints

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Sometimes a print depicting a fish is just a picture of a fish. When it comes to Japanese koi prints, there's a history of symbolism that turns a mere fish picture into a message of encouragement, longing, or congratulations. Koi fish represent love and romantic attachment, but they also represent strength and abundance.

When choosing a koi print for your collection or to give as a special gift, think about the message you want to convey. Take some time to research the meaning of Japanese and other koi artwork. Look for the following three elements in koi prints, paintings, and sculpture:


Koi fish are named by color in the pond. They may be orange, pale blue, black, mottled, or metallic in coloring. Koi with metallic or golden flecks in their scales are often symbols of future or present prosperity.

In artwork and symbolism, koi are also sorted by color. For example, koi flags and kites are often flown by families on Children's Day. The color meanings in this context include:

  • Black for father
  • Orange or red for mother
  • Blue or white for boy
  • Pink or red for girl

Using these guidelines, choose a print of a red koi fish for a daughter and a blue koi fish for a son to make their art prints extra meaningful gifts. A print depicting an orange fish and a black fish together is a very appropriate gift for a set of grandparents or parents.


The direction in which koi are depicted swimming also says a great deal about the meaning of the art piece. There are two separate meanings depending on whether the fish is swimming upstream or downstream.

Koi swimming upstream reflect a struggle against the odds and the encouragement to work hard to achieve one's goals. Koi swimming downstream are on "easy street" and have accomplished their goals. 

A recent high school or college graduate appreciates the koi headed downstream with the current, while a family member struggling with a heavy workload or other concern identifies with the koi determined to make it up the creek.


Koi may live more than 100 years in the wild, always swimming upstream to find better waters. They represent perseverance and a long, prosperous life. 

A group of three koi is thought to attract wealth and prosperity. Choose a set of three koi prints, or one print featuring three koi, whether you seek a gift for a new entrepreneur or an established business owner.

Two intertwined koi represent yin and yang, or they may be symbolic of romantic devotion and courage. There are other meanings for koi painted with specific items, including hibiscus (devotion) or lotus (determination) flowers.

Koi are popular subjects of tattoos in Japan and worldwide, so it's easy to find charts and other information about deeper meanings behind the various koi colors, activities, and numbers. 

The main thing to remember about koi artwork is this: if you adore a certain koi print, it doesn't really matter what the symbolism represents. The meaning of the artwork is found in its beauty and framed presentation, and that's quite enough. For more information, contact an art dealer like Christi B Fine Art.