Komainu Tattoo

Foo Dog Tattoos: Meanings, Tattoo Designs & Ideas

Protect your Skin with some Guardian Lions!

Foo Dog Tattoos

Foo Dogs, or Guardian Lions in English, are a common sight worldwide with a rich history.

It is believed that India was the first location to guard important places with stone lion guardians.

Foo Dog Statue in Japan
Foo Dog statue in Japan

This would only make sense considering how many iconic British, and later American, institutions are flanked by Lions.

But the Brits weren’t the only people to adopt the guardian lions for their historic buildings.

The concept spread from India to China, through Korea and of course Japan.

The Japanese guardian Lion, with its bulbous eyes and bared teeth, is a ubiquitous image when people think of Japan.

Not only that, but Foo Dog have become quite the popular image for tattoo designs.

Sometimes depicted as colorful and playful- other times menacing, the Foo Dog tattoo is a crowd pleasing design.

Foo Dog tattoos are particularly popular for men, though any gender may choose to sport this iconic design.

Let’s explore the origins of the Foo Dog, the symbolism behind this striking imagery, and why Foo Dog tattoos are a timeless choice.

A Foo Dog By Any Other Name

If you’re a tattoo fan and think you’ve never heard of a Foo Dog, think again.

The Foo Dog goes by many names.

You may have heard Foo Dog referred to as a Guardian Lion, a Komainu, a Fu Dog, Shi Shi, or Imperial Lions.

Thanks to the mixed heritage of the image and its popularity with Westerners, the Foo Dog has ended up with a few labels!

Why Is Foo Dog Called A Dog?

There are a few reasons for this, but we can mostly trace it back to Westerners who got a little lost in translation.

There are dog breeds who are associated with lions in Asia.

One only needs to look at their adorable little faces to see why!

These dogs are shih tzu (lion dog), Chow Chow (puffy lion dog) and the Pekignese (Fu-lin in Chinese, meaning Lion Dog.)

The story behind the Pekingese dog is actually quite fun- legend has it that a large lion fell in love with a tiny monkey and asked the gods to shrink him down to an appropriate size for his true love- making this funny little creature with a larger than life personality.

Foo Dog Statue
Foo Dog (ceramic statue) playing with Temari Ball

It is believed that some people saw the statues and mistook them to be statues of these particular dogs, when they were actually statues of the lions that these dogs are said to represent!

Confused yet? You can imagine how the Foo Dog’s name got so muddled up through the years.

Because Guardian Lions were often stationed outside of temples, they were referred to as “foo dogs” by Westerners because “fo” and “fu” mean “Buddha” in Chinese.

Accurate or not, the name stuck.

But if you are going to get a tattoo of a foo dog as they are sometimes referred to casually, it is best to pay them the proper respect and call them Guardian Lions.

As an extra historical side note- Komainu is actually the Korean word for dog- so it seems no matter what, dogs and royal lions will be inextricably linked across Asian countries.

But then, many people’s fluffy friends double as guardians- so maybe domestic dogs have more in common with lions than one would think at first sniff.

Foo Dog Tattoo Meanings

Because lions have become ubiquitous guardians of important buildings- they symbolize strength and protection worldwide.

Protection

Though they started out as sacred security for Buddhist temples, they are now found in front of Libraries, hotels, even malls.

There is a regality suggested when a building is protected by lions- a sense of grand opulence.

Though Foo Dogs have become guardians of commercial structures, they remain a very important image to Buddhists.

Peace & Calmness

In Buddhism, Lions symbolize peace, and are said to calm anyone who wears their mark. (Read more about lion tattoo!)

They are also known as symbols of energy, vitality and happiness.

If this seems contradictory, that is by design.

Harmony & Balance

Guardian Lions always appear in pairs- one male and one female.

This is to represent a harmonious balance between the binary- the yin and yang.

A Foo Dog tattoo is a nice option because it represents the strength so many of us aspire to, while being tempered by a more feminine, contemplative and gentle quality.

Strength without restraint, after all, can lead to unnecessary violence.

Main Themes In Foo Dog Tattoos

Foo Dog tattoos are versatile, and it is up to you and your tattoo artist to choose how your piece is designed.

Some opt for a more serious black and grey look, which is usually more representative of the stone guardian lions seen in front of many buildings in Asia.

Others may choose bright colors and a design with movement.

This imagery favors the “happiness and vitality” side of the Guardian Lion tattoo designs.

The yin yang element of the lions is often brought out by using complementary opposite colors in the design- a really nice effect.

Things To Consider Before Getting A Foo Dog Tattoo

It’s probably going to be big

Remember, Foo Dogs travel in pairs.

It wouldn’t be right to only have one!

They also tend to be incredibly detailed, whether you go for black and grey or colour in your design.

This means your tattoo is going to take up some skin real estate.

Are you ready to commit?

It’ll Cost You

Big tattoos are expensive tattoos.

They take more time for your tattoo artist to apply, require more effort, and use more ink.

You’ll also want to give your artist a nice tip- so get a few quotes and save those pennies before you make your appointment.

It’ll Hurt!

Any tattoo with intricate details means the artist is going to be going over the same place multiple times, leaving your skin raw.

You can (and probably will have to) break your appointment up into at least two sessions, but be advised- you may want to bring something to bite down on.

Foo Dog Tattoo Designs

Traditional Japanese Foo Dog Tattoos

Traditional Japanese Foo Dog Tattoo
Traditional Japanese Foo Dog Tattoo
Traditional Japanese Foo Dog Tattoo
Traditional Japanese Foo Dog Tattoo

Neo-Japanese Foo Dog Tattoos

Neo-Japanese Foo Dog Tattoo
Neo-Japanese Foo Dog Tattoo
Neo-Japanese Foo Dog Tattoo

New School Foo Dog Tattoos

New School Foo Dog Tattoo
New School Foo Dog Tattoo

Foo Dog Tattoo Ideas

By whatever name you call them, Foo Dog tattoos are a beautiful symbol of regality, strength, balance, and vitality.

There are definitely a lot of people who could use a pair of Guardian Lions in their life.

Still not sure if that’s you?

Take a look at our gallery to see if these lions are calling your name.

Black & Grey Foo Dog Tattoos

Black and Grey Foo Dog Tattoo
Black and Grey Foo Dog Tattoo
Black and Grey Foo Dog Tattoo
Black and Grey Foo Dog Tattoo
Black and Grey Foo Dog Tattoo
Black and Grey Foo Dog Tattoo

Foo Dog Tattoo Sleeves

Foo Dog Tattoo Sleeve
Foo Dog Tattoo Sleeve
Foo Dog Tattoo Sleeve
Foo Dog Tattoo Sleeve
Foo Dog Tattoo Sleeve

Foo Dog Tattoo Half Sleeves

Foo Dog Tattoo Half Sleeve
Foo Dog Tattoo Half Sleeve
Foo Dog Tattoo Half Sleeve
Foo Dog Tattoo Half Sleeve

Foo Dog Tattoo Placement

Foo Dog Tattoos on Chest

Foo Dog Tattoo on Chest
Foo Dog Tattoo on Chest
Foo Dog Tattoo on Chest
Foo Dog Tattoo on Chest
Foo Dog Tattoo on Chest
Foo Dog Tattoo on Chest

Foo Dog Tattoos on Forearm

Foo Dog Tattoo on Forearm
Foo Dog Tattoo on Forearm
Foo Dog Tattoo on Forearm
Foo Dog Tattoo on Forearm
Foo Dog Tattoo on Forearm

Foo Dog Tattoos on Leg

Foo Dog Tattoo on Leg
Foo Dog Tattoo on Leg
Foo Dog Tattoo on Leg

Back-piece Foo Dog Tattoos

Foo Dog Tattoo on the Back
Foo Dog Tattoo on the Back

Foo Dog Tattoos on Hand

Foo Dog Tattoo on the back of the Hand
Foo Dog Tattoo on the back of the Hand
Foo Dog Tattoo on the back of the Hand
Foo Dog Tattoo on the back of the Hand

To read more about Japanese style tattoos, go to:

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