Japanese Dragon Tattoo

Best Japanese Dragon Tattoo Ideas featured image
Published on May 27, 2023

Are you a lover of Japanese culture and mythos? Perhaps you’ve been searching for the best symbolism that suits you within Japanese culture.

In Japanese folklore, dragons are revered as powerful and benevolent creatures, representing wisdom, strength, and protection.

So lets embark on this exploration of Japanese Dragon Tattoos and prepare to be enthralled by the incredible designs and the profound meanings behind these legendary creatures.

From traditional Japanese styles to more modern interpretations, we'll show you the finest examples of Japanese dragon tattoos that seamlessly blend aesthetic beauty with cultural significance. Let’s soar into the skies of the Japanese Dragon Tattoo!

History Of Dragons In Japan

The Dragon is a symbolically relevant mythical beast that has tales throughout almost every Continent on the planet. China boasts the oldest known depiction of Dragons, and it was the Chinese who brought stories of the Dragons to Japan.

It was around the 7th century when Buddhism was imported from China to Japan, and Dragons were later incorporated into Shintoism, Japan's indigenous and nature-centered religion. 

Japan has many depictions of Dragons, from the malevolent eight-headed Yamata no Orochi, who was slain by the god of wind and sea Susanoo, to benevolent Dragons such as Ryūjin, the water deity and bringer of rain. 

It was believed in Japan that dragons were originally native to Japan, and they were fond of traveling, gaining claws as they walked further from Japan.

When the Dragon arrived in Korea, it gained four claws, and when it finally arrived in China, it gained five claws.

However, three clawed Dragons existed earlier in history than the introduction of Dragons into Japan from China. 

Japanese Dragon Tattoo Designs

Now that we know a brief history of Japanese Dragons, let’s find out what Japanese Dragon Tattoos mean and their designs. 

1. Japanese Dragon With Cherry Blossoms

Japanese Dragon With Cherry Blossoms

Photo credit: Printable Word Calendar

A Japanese Dragon Tattoo symbolizes strength, wisdom, protection, freedom, and good luck. Japanese Dragons are almost always benevolent beings and deities who bring rain and wisdom.

To really emphasize that your Dragon is a Japanese Dragon Tattoo rather than a Chinese Dragon Tattoo is to add other Japanese symbolism.

And what could be more symbolic of Japan than cherry blossoms? This Dragon Flower Tattoo is absolutely beautiful, the Dragon has a traditional Japanese brush stoke design to it, and the cherry blossoms add the symbolism of life's fleeting beauty. 

2. Japanese Dragon Head Tattoo

Japanese Dragon Head Tattoo

Photo credit: @traditionalartist

If a whole Dragon Tattoo isn’t your thing, why not just try a Dragon Head Tattoo?

A Dragon Head Tattoo offers you more opportunity to have a lot more detail within the Dragons face so you can be a lot more expressive with its features. This Black Dragon Tattoo has great detail done in a traditional painting style.

You can see just how detailed the features of the face are and the eyes make the Dragon look like it is somewhat manic in expression. 

3. Japanese Dragon with Oni Mask Tattoo

Japanese Dragon with Oni Mask Tattoo

Photo credit: Next Luxury

Following on from the Dragon and cherry blossom idea.

Adding a different type of Japanese symbolism to your Japanese Dragon Tattoo can add to its meaning as well as emphasize just what type of Dragon you have inked.

This Dragon and Japanese mask tattoo carries with it the symbolism of two guardian protectors. The Dragon to guide your way through life, and the Oni to ward off evil spirits. 

4. Ryūjin Dragon Tattoo

Ryūjin Dragon Tattoo

Photo credit: @ninjamietattoo

Ryūjin is a Dragon deity of the sea symbolizing the power of the ocean and, in some tales, has the ability to transform into a human state.

But did you know that according to Japanese myth, it is, in fact, Ryūjin that claims responsibility for Jellyfish having no bones? 

So the tale goes, Ryūjin wanted to taste a monkey's liver to help cure an incurable rash and sent a jellyfish to fetch him a monkey.

But the Monkey bamboozled the Jellyfish, leaving him empty-handed and upon returning to Ryūjin and telling him what happened, the Dragon became so enraged he beat the jellyfish until all his bones were crushed.

5. Benten Dragon Tattoo

Benten Dragon Tattoo

Photo credit: Tattoo Life

Benten or Benzaiten was a former sea Goddess who became the goddess of love.

One of the tails of Benten states that she married a Dragon to put a stop to the destruction he was causing to an island.

Benten is a mixture of many religious beliefs, from Shinto kami tradition, Buddhist sectarian beliefs and symbols, and Indian and Chinese spiritual life. A Benten Tattoo can symbolize love and good fortune. 

6. Kiyohime Dragon Tattoo

Kiyohime Dragon Tattoo

Photo credit: Reddit

Kiyohime is a Japanese myth of a woman who fell in love with a Buddhist priest.

However, when her advances were rejected as the priest was sworn to celibacy, the priest fled. Enraged, Kiyohime transformed into a Dragon and sniffed out where he was hiding, ultimately killing him and then herself through her grief. 

7. Dragon Fish Tattoo

Dragon Fish Tattoo

Photo credit: @counsellingwest.co.uk

A Dragon Fish Tattoo symbolizes the transformation someone goes through over a difficult journey.

The inspiration for the design comes from the age-old tale of a Koi fish who battled its way up the raging currents and insurmountable obstacles to reach the top of a mountain and was rewarded by the Gods by transforming the Koi into a Mythical Dragon.

8. Dragon Koi Tattoo

Dragon Koi Tattoo

Photo credit: Pinterest

If the halfway point transformation isn’t to your liking, then you can opt for both a dragon and a Koi Fish Tattoo.
The Dragon Koi Tattoo carries with it the same story of the Koi battling up the mountain.

However, this design shows both sides of the journey rather than depicting the transformation itself, symbolizing the beginning and the end of the journey. 

9. Yakuza Dragon Tattoo

Yakuza Dragon Tattoo

Photo credit: Chronic Ink

Yakuza Tattoos or irezumi are symbols of loyalty and dedication to the Japanese criminal syndicate, and a Yakuza Dragon Tattoo represents wisdom.

Tattooing in Japan can be traced back to the Edo period (1603-1868) when tattoos were used as a form of punishment for criminals, which could explain the strong association between tattoos and criminal activity.

This Yellow Dragon Tattoo done in a Yakuza style is beautiful showing a great contrast between the Dragons yellow/gold color and the black background. 

10. Yamata No Orochi Dragon Tattoo

Yamata No Orochi Dragon Tattoo

Photo credit: @tattoosnob

Yamata no Orochi was an eight-headed Dragon who forced two Earth Deities (國神, kunitsukami) to give him one of their daughters every year for seven years.

The Two Deities were met by Susanoo who himself had just been expelled from heaven for tricking his sister Amaterasu.

Susanoo sets a trap for the beast by making each of its heads drink liquor, leading him to pass out. Susanno then cuts the Yamata no Orochi into pieces and finds the Herb-Quelling Great Sword inside. This Japanese Dragon Tattoo perfectly shows the tale of the Dragon drinking its alcohol while Susanno puts an end to it.

11. Japanese Anime Dragon Tattoos

Japanese Anime Dragon Tattoos

Photo credit: @number4low_tattoo

Japanese anime is full to the brim with Dragons so there is no shortage to choose from.

With anime growing rapidly in popularity there are many people seeking to add Anime Tattoos to their collection.

This One Piece Tattoo of Kaido is a perfect example of how anime is being meshed with traditional Dragon Tattoo designs starting a new age of Tattoo styles. 

Where To Get Your Japanese Dragon Tattoo

Style and design are one thing, but placement can also affect your tattoo's meaning, so let's find out the best places to put your new Japanese Dragon Tattoo.

1. Japanese Dragon Tattoo On The Chest

Japanese Dragon Tattoo On The Chest

Photo credit: Pinterest

A Japanese Dragon Tattoo on the chest can symbolize the Dragon being your eyes, guiding you through life and watching every step you take.

The chest offers a lot of space for men to place on the pectoral muscle, and like this Yakuza Dragon Tattoo shows, you can extend from the chest, over the shoulder, and down the arm. 

2. Japanese Dragon Tattoo On The Back

Japanese Dragon Tattoo On The Back

Photo credit: @helloscoutie

A Dragon Tattoo on the back can symbolize how the Dragon is your guardian spirit, always watching your back and protecting you from harm.

The back offers the most amount of space for you to go wild with your designs, or you can keep things more subtle like this White Dragon Tattoo.
Haku is a water spirit from the Studio Ghibli film Spirited Away who aided Chihiro in her adventure. 

3. The Leg/Arm With Japanese Dragon Tattoo Ideas

Leg/Arm With Japanese Dragon Tattoo Ideas

Photo credit: Futuros Abrelatam

A Dragon Tattoo on the Leg symbolizes how the Dragon aids you in every step of your life, pushing you into each new adventure.

A Dragon Tattoo on the arm symbolizes how the wielder possesses the strength of the Dragon. This Red Dragon Tattoo is exceptionally well designed with its fine lines and addition of the clouds.  

4. The Ear With Japanese Dragon Tattoo

Ear With Japanese Dragon Tattoo

Photo credit: EcstasyCoffee

The Ear can symbolize how the Dragon speaks directly to you, giving you guidance and wisdom along your journey.

Behind the ear, tattoos are subtle yet elegant and perfect for those who like to keep things low-key yet still want the symbolism attached.

This Minimalist Dragon Tattoo really shows off how the body and Dragon anatomy can combine to create truly unique pieces of tattoo art, with the Dragon coiling around and through the ear, giving it a three-dimensional effect. 

5. Japanese Dragon Tattoo Designs On The Neck

Japanese Dragon Tattoo Designs On The Neck

Photo credit: Outsons

A Dragon Tattoo on the neck can symbolize how the Dragon is protecting the wearer by protecting the vital spot of the throat.

A neck tattoo isn’t for the faint of heart and is for those serious about wanting to show off their Dragon Tattoo wherever they go.

This Dragon Tattoo has great detailing and looks incredibly fierce, giving the wielder a real edge to his/her look.


Alas, our journey through the mythical skies of Japanese Dragon Tattoos has come to an end.

We hope that we have bestowed upon you the knowledge you seek for the perfect Japanese Dragon Tattoo so that you yourself can soar into the atmosphere of the legendary tales that the Japanese Dragon inspires us with. 

But if the Japanese Dragon doesn't inspire you maybe check out these Chinese Dragon Tattoos, or if the Dragon isn’t your mythical animal of choice, check out these beautiful Phoenix Tattoo ideas or maybe a combination of both the Phoenix and Dragon Tattoo ideas. And if you're still curious about Japanese style Tattoos, check out these amazing  Japanese Mask Tattoo ideas

If you’re someone who’s thinking about getting a Dragon Tattoo, then there is no magic spell that will make your after-ink soreness disappear.

Just like a burn from a Dragon’s breath you will need to take the appropriate care to get you back on your feet as soon as possible.

So check out these great tattoo aftercare products to reduce pain and discomfort and keep the fire alive and your Dragon ink looking as fresh and alive for as long as possible.

Frequently Asked Questions Related to Japanese Dragon Tattoos

What Does A Japanese Dragon Tattoo Mean?

A Japanese dragon tattoo is a popular choice for men and women. It symbolizes strength, courage, honor, good luck, wisdom, and power.

Dragons are part of the Japanese culture and they have always been regarded as powerful creatures. They are associated with water and rainbows as well.

In Japan, the dragon is known as “Ryu” which means “dragon” in English.

The Japanese people believe that each color has its own meaning so if you want to get a tattoo then you should know what color would suit you best according to your personality type.

What Is The Difference Between Chinese and Japanese Dragon Tattoos?

Japanese dragon tattoos typically feature dragons with three toes, while Chinese dragons commonly have four or five toes. This distinction in toe number is a key visual element that differentiates the two styles.

Additionally, Japanese dragons are often depicted amidst clouds or with a pearl, symbolizing wisdom and the pursuit of knowledge, whereas Chinese dragons might be shown with flames or water, emphasizing their power over natural elements.

Why Do Yakuza Have Dragon Tattoos?

For the Yakuza, dragon tattoos are not just decorative but deeply symbolic, representing wisdom and power.

The color of the dragon adds further meaning: a black dragon symbolizes experience and wisdom, a green dragon connects to nature, and a gold dragon signifies wealth and value.

These tattoos reflect the attributes the Yakuza admire and perhaps see in themselves or aspire to embody, making the dragon a significant choice in their tattoo artistry.

What Do The Colors Of Japanese Dragons Mean?

In Japanese dragon tattoos, colors hold significant symbolism: Red dragons symbolize fierce strength and protection, green dragons are connected to nature and growth, black dragons represent wisdom and experience, and blue dragons are known for their benevolence and forgiveness.

Gold dragons stand for value and virtue, often associated with prosperity and good fortune.

Each color enhances the dragon's meaning, providing depth to the tattoo's symbolism and personal significance to the wearer.

Is It Rude To Show Tattoos In Japan?

Displaying tattoos in Japan is not illegal, but cultural sensitivity remains. In public spaces like streets, there is generally no issue with visible tattoos.

However, traditional places such as temples, shrines, and especially public baths or swimming pools may require covering them up.

Tattoos have historical associations with the Yakuza, leading to a lingering stigma. Therefore, discretion in showing tattoos in certain settings is appreciated to respect cultural norms.

Tips for Getting the Best Japanese Dragon Tattoo

Getting a Japanese dragon tattoo can be a very rewarding experience if you know what you’re doing. Here are some tips for getting the best Japanese dragon tattoos:

Get an Artist That Specializes in Japanese Style Tattoos

You don’t need to go to Japan to get a good one; there are plenty of talented artists all over the world who can create amazing pieces for you if you find the right one.

If possible, look at their portfolio before hiring one so that you can see examples of their previous work firsthand; this will give you an idea of what kind of design would look best on your body type and skin tone.

Choose The Right Colors for Your Tattoo

You can have multiple colors or just one color depending on how elaborate or simple you want it to be.

If you want something intricate, then you should consider using several different colors so that it looks more realistic and beautiful when finished.

Paul Mulligan
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