Water is a vital symbol for the Japanese, not only because the nation is surrounded on all sides by ocean, but because of the illustrious relationship between the Japanese people and the power of the sea.
Nearly every Japanese tattoo is going to include water in some way.
Waves are one of the most popular representations of water in the Japanese canon, and many of the artistic renderings by famous Japanese artists have reached global levels of recognizability.
Japanese wave tattoos are typically representative of life, power, fluidity, and movement. Such tattoos are often blended with other similar elements, like Koi, Oni, or Dragons. All of these Japanese symbols play off each other with practiced similarities and relatable imagery.
Waves are a popular tattoo design because they can represent the ever-changing nature of life, such as the ebb and flow of water. Just as with water and the ocean, life can be gentle and breezy during the simple times and tumultuous during the hard. Such direct symbolism is deeply attractive to those who understand the fluid nature of life.
Some Japanese artistic pieces have been translated directly into tattoos, like the famous work by Katsushika Hokusai. In it, he depicts a large wave bearing down on three ships trying desperately to survive the tsunami, which illustrates the resilience of the human spirit against all forces of adversity.