Japanese Snake Tattoo

80+ Japanese Snake Tattoos: Myths, Symbolism & Common Themes

Wrap yourself in the mythology!

Japanese Snake Tattoo

Japanese snake drawing

In the tattoo world, there are some classic symbols that will always make their way into designs.

In a typical tattoo portfolio there are plenty of roses, skulls, anchors and guns to go around.

Certain things are just well suited to tattoos, either because of their pleasing shape, interesting color scheme, or even their reputation in society.

One of the best examples of an aesthetically pleasing design with a bad-ass reputation is the snake.

Snakes are endlessly fascinating creatures because there’s nothing else on earth quite like them.

So many ancient peoples had theories and stories about the snake- and for good reason.

Imagine coming across a snake in the wild without ever having heard of or seen such a thing: it would be a truly bewildering experience!

In a world before nature documentaries and google image searches, people had to make up their own stories for these perplexing creatures.

Snakes in Japan

Because there is so much to be said about snakes in general, today we’ll put the focus on Japanese snake tattoos.

The hebi (Japanese word for snake) is as popular in Irezumi (tattooing) in Japan as it is anywhere else.

Though Japanese people are obviously aware of the venomous potential in some snakes, they have not traditionally depicted the slithering creatures in a negative light.

While some ideologies seem to be concerned with labeling things as “good” or “bad,” Japanese mythology is more complicated than that.

A snake can be as frightening as it is beautiful and auspicious.

Generally speaking, to come across a snake in Japan is seen as a fortunate thing, especially if it’s a white snake.

This can be a sign of good luck, and people will generally try not to disturb the snake as a result.

For people who keep gardens, a snake will feast on the vermin that may have ruined their crops otherwise.

Basically the preferred attitude is to appreciate and respect the snake from afar.

Japanese Snake Mythology

Hannya Masks

In Japanese tattoos, serpents are often linked to another popular figure in the art of Irezumi: The Hannya Mask.

Hannya is an archetype within Japanese Noh and Kyōgen theatre. She represents a mortal woman who, overcome with jealousy and rage, is possessed by a vengeful demon.

Because snakes shed their skin, pairing a Hannya one could be to reinforce those themes of transformation.

Snakes also represent good luck and protection, so perhaps the snake protects the wearer from meeting the same fate as Hannya. Sometimes demonic tattoos are also said to to ward off evil spirits.

Another interpretation could be in the snake representing immortality, and this may speak to the enduring strength of Hannya’s rage. In any case, the two certainly seem to find themselves paired up with one another a lot.

Goddess Benzaiten

Benzaiten is one of Japan’s 7 lucky gods. These gods are a grouping of deities taken from many Eastern religions- in this case Hinduism.

Benzaiten is the Japanese interpretation of the Hindu goddess Saraswati.

She is not only the goddess of water, but anything that flows. Because she has dominion over water, she is often pictured with dragons and snakes. Snakes were considered to be messengers to Benzaiten.

This is also part of why gardeners are encouraged to leave snakes alone, especially white snakes.

It is said that Benzaiten has the ability to transform into a white snake, and may slither into your life in this form.

Japanese Zodiac

The Japanese Zodiac (Juunishi) is practically identical to the Chinese zodiac, though it is in a slightly different order.

While China observes the Lunar New Year, Japan celebrates New Year’s Eve on December 31st according to the Gregorian calendar.

Nevertheless, the animals and meanings are the same.

In the Japanese zodiac, “snake people” must have been born in 2001, 1989, 1977, 1965, 1953, 1941, 1929 or 1917.

They are thought of as quiet, lucky with money and material goods, and very wise. They are goal setters and achievers.

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Japanese Snake Tattoo Symbolism

Because there are so many snakes in Japanese mythology, the meaning behind the tattoo may differ depending on who is wearing it, and why, and what images they’ve surrounded the snake with.

Some basic interpretations include:

New Life: Because the snake sheds its skin (even on the eyes!) It is a symbol of new beginnings and saying goodbye to the old.

A Japanese snake tattoo may be a natural choice for someone who has transformed themselves either through health changes, giving up an addition, or perhaps leaving a relationship that was no longer working.

Immortality: Snakes are often used to represent eternal life because when a snake eats its own tail, it makes a perfect circle. No beginning and no end.

Good Luck and Good Health: In Japan, snakes are seen as a symbol of good luck and protection, especially from illness

Common Themes in Japanese Snake Tattoos

Snake tattoos in the Japanese art style are typically large and bold with deep, saturated colors like black and red.

Different colors and symbols may alter the meaning of your snake tattoo.

Symbols

Tidal Waves – The fluidity of life, nothing is permanent.

Demonic Creature – Protection from evil.

Peonies – Honor, good fortune, and bravery.

Colors

Black – Wisdom, a dignified person.

Red – protection and strength.

White – Goddess Benzaiten and divinity in general.

Green – Vital energy and youth.

Pink – Femininity and youth.

Yellow – Long lasting prosperity.

Japanese Snake Tattoo Ideas

If you grew up with the idea that snakes are evil or demonic, perhaps it’s time to face your fear.

Check out our gallery of the coolest Japanese Snake Tattoos!

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