Japanese dragons symbolize many different qualities. To some, the images represent strength, power, masculinity or sexual passion. For others, the dragon depicts longevity, luck and wisdom.
To the Japanese, the mythical creatures are symbols of forces that use their strength for the good of others. The Asian version is usually depicted as serpent-like without wings. A sleeping dragon means that the wearer possesses quiet strength and power that rises to the occasion when necessary. A dragon rising toward the sun signifies ascension, progress or a life journey. A dragon’s claw might represent a battle over evil, destruction or fearlessness and power.
The benevolent Asian dragon or Ryu is also typically a composite of many creatures. The eyes appear demonic or rabbit like. It might have the ears of a cow, the neck and belly of a serpent and the horns of a stag. Its scales are borrowed from the koi fish, and the claws or talons are derived from the eagle or the hawk. One claw is often clutching a semi-precious gem.
The tattoos are created in any number of styles that include abstract, cartoonish, dramatic or realistic. While some are done in black work, more often the image contains bright, bold colors. The shape is also easily modified to fit many different body locations.
1. Full Back Japanese Dragon Tattoos
Take advantage of your widest canvas with a full back Japanese dragon tattoo. Since Japanese dragon tattoos tend to be incredibly intricate and detailed, the back is the most popular spot in order to showcase the true majesty of your piece.
Wrap the dragon back and forth across the folds of your muscles. Incorporate an entire scene with multiple characters into your depiction. Regardless of the style you choose, your full back Japanese dragon tattoo will be a sight to behold.
Traditional Japanese tattoos, known as Irezumi, would frequently use displays of dragons, especially in full back and full body tattoos. This is one of the more expensive pieces to get tattooed, due to the time and labor required to bring a piece like this to life. But if you find yourself a phenomenal artist, you won’t be sorry when it’s finished!
2. Japanese Dragon Sleeve Tattoos
Carry a symbol of good fortune on your shoulder with a Japanese dragon sleeve tattoo. The elongated curve of a dragon lends itself perfectly to the cylinder shape of your arm. Spin the dragon around like a spiral staircase, or wear it like a piece of armor across the outer side.
If you’re thinking about a smaller piece, wrap a smaller dragon around your forearm, for it’s not the size of the dragon that counts.
Incorporate other images from Japanese mythology or decorate the rest of the space with more contemporary designs. Koi fish are a frequent companion of dragons, as both are considered symbols of good fortune and prosperity.
3. Japanese Dragon Chest Tattoos
Let the dragon face things first with a Japanese dragon chest tattoo. Wear the dragon’s head over your heart as the rest of it extends onto the shoulder and down your arm. Or spread the creature across your pectorals. Take the head and expand it over your heart. Snake its long and winding body down your own. Or use the chest as the main stage for a theatrical depiction that spreads across your two arms. There’s plenty of room on your torso too so feel free to think as grandly as you can! With all those dragon scales, you’ll want to have a wide open space to do them all justice.
4. Linework Japanese Dragon Tattoos
For a more intricate yet simple choice, consider a linework Japanese dragon tattoo. While Japanese dragon tattoos often come drenched in a myriad of colors, indulge a ghostly effect by focusing on a black ink outline. Incorporate a sketchy technique to give the appearance of a spirit of the wind. Or indulge in geometric patterns to give your Japanese dragon additional dimensions .
Since Japanese dragon tattoos are so intricate and labor intensive for both the artist and the recipient, they require multiple sessions so the artist will do all the linework first. Some of the pieces shown above are works in progress, but even in its stages the Japanese dragon tattoo always looks fantastic. And who knows, maybe you’ll fall in love with the simplicity of the linework.
5. Japanese Dragon Leg Tattoos
Guide your steps forward with a Japanese dragon leg tattoo. The leg is another great location to consider for your Japanese dragon, with the lengthy space of the leg. Start from the top and work the beast down or curl his mane around your ankle as he races forward. Take advantage of the space of the thigh and give your Japanese dragon space to roar.
For ideas on how to fill the space, flip through a book of traditional Irezumi for inspiration or check out more of our galleries. You can also talk to your artist and give them free rein to decorate with their favorite visuals. Trust in the good fortune of the dragon to guide your way.
6. Neo-traditional Japanese Dragon Tattoos
Blend together the traditional and the contemporary with a neo-traditional Japanese dragon tattoo. The neo-traditional style takes the bold lines of the traditional style and incorporates a realism into the visuals, which gives your dragon an otherworldly feel.
While the traditional Japanese dragons mix together comic and tragic features, neo-traditional dragons tend towards the dark and ferocious side. Think about whether you want to use warm colors to invoke the fiery element to your Japanese dragon or if you want to tend towards cooler colors. Japanese dragons are often associated with the elements so let your imagination run wild!
7. Japanese Dragon with Flowers Tattoos
Bring your beast down to earth by adding flowers to your Japanese dragon tattoo. In Irezumi, the most common floral depiction is the lotus. Since the lotus is a flower that thrives in mud, it is used to depict struggle and overcoming hardships. It is also frequently associated with transformation and rebirth. Alongside the imagery of freedom that the dragon represents, the two together represent a redemption. Or take a leaf or blossom from American traditional design and scatter roses alongside your Japanese dragon. Grow the flowers from the dragon itself or leave a trail in its wake.
8. Fantastical Japanese Dragon Tattoos
Leave realism behind with a fantastical Japanese dragon tattoo. Use the foundation of the traditional Japanese dragon to springboard yourself into another reality. Find inspiration from your favorite books and movies to create the most fantastical creature of them all. Take a wing from The Hobbit or pay tribute to Falcor, the ultimate Luck Dragon.
Make your dragon a harbinger for the seasons with autumnal or wintery features in its horns and trail. And nobody said you only had to pick one so don’t feel like you have to limit yourself! The only thing holding you back is your own imagination.
9. Black Ink and Grayscale Japanese Dragon Tattoos
If you’re not interested in colors, check out these black ink and greyscale Japanese dragon tattoos. Using predominantly black ink gives your Japanese a particularly mysterious vibe, especially if you include clouds of black smoke alongside it. Greyscale is also a fantastic option to consider for an especially smoky and ghostlike appearance. And since black and grey ink run a little cheaper than color ink, you can spend a little more towards the intricacy of the piece itself.
Incorporate patterns into the dragon’s scales or watch its cloud of smoke breathe another image to life. Use greyscale shading to fade the dragon in and out from the unblemished skin. Dotwork is also a great option to talk to your artist about as a way to fill the skin in between the curves of the dragon’s body.
Japanese Dragon Tattoo FAQs
What does the dragon symbolize in Japan?
As part of Japanese mythology, dragons represent freedom, balance, and good fortune. They are also associated with wisdom and protection. Traditional Japanese tattoos are also known as Irezumi and include a wide variety of traditional images. Japanese dragons are one of the most common visual depictions, and are also known as Ryu tattoos. Ryu tattoos may be combined with other Irezumi images to depict classic scenes from Japanese mythology.
Did you enjoy these Japanese Dragon Tattoo ideas? Click on the links below for more galleries celebrating the art of Irezumi.