Japanese Symbols And Their Meanings – The Extensive List

In the second part of our journey into the world of oriental symbolism, we are taking you to Japan today. What represents strength in Japan? What is the Japanese symbol for love? What about the symbol of unity? Here is our comprehensive piece on Japanese symbols and their meanings answering all these questions for you.

Koi and Ai – Japanese Symbols for Love

The Japanese symbols ‘koi’ and ‘ai’ both mean ‘love.’ Requiring more than ten strokes each, these symbols are quite difficult to make. Nonetheless, they are highly popular amongst tattoo lovers given how beautiful they look aesthetically and of course, due to the connotations that are attached to them.

Koi, Japanese Symbol For Love – © Ellen C at ShutterStock

However, what many people miss out on is the fact that ‘koi’ and ‘ai’ have slightly different implications when it comes to expressing love. Koi, the first Japanese symbol for love, is the term used to express love for a member of the opposite gender – it has more passionate or romantic overtones.

On the other hand, the Ai, the second Japanese symbol for love, represents the feeling of love in the general sense. For example, it can symbolize the love between friends, love between siblings, or even love for objects and possessions. 

Put simply, the main difference between the two symbols ‘koi’ and ‘ai’ is that ‘ai’ is always giving while ‘koi’ is rather self-centered in nature.

The Japanese word ‘Ai’ is also used as a name for females. For example, the royal baby in Japan was named Princess Aiko. The name ‘Aiko’ is formed by combining the two different Japanese words for ‘love’ and ‘child’ respectively.  

Similarly, adding different suffixes to Ai indicates different concepts about love. Here are a few examples:

  • Aikokushin – means patriotism
  • Aijin – refers to lovers (implies extramarital affairs)
  • Aishiteru – is used to say ‘I love you’ 

Heiwa – Japanese Symbol for Peace

Heiwa is the Japanese symbol commonly used to express the idea of peace, harmony, and tranquility. It bears a close resemblance to the Chinese symbol ‘heping,’ which also has a similar meaning.

Heiwa is formed by joining together two distinct radicals, ‘hei’ and ‘wa.’ ‘Hei’ signifies something that has been ‘flattened’ or ‘leveled out’ whereas ‘wa’ denotes calmness and serenity. 

When used in compound form, the two words depict the idea that peace is something that can only be achieved by making things even to bring about harmony. 

Heiwa is the Japanese symbol for peace in general, but if you want to refer to ‘inner peace’ in particular, then the correct symbol for that would be ‘heian.’  

Chikara – Japanese Symbol for Strength

Chikara is the Japanese symbol for strength. Chikara is a Japanese character that literally translates to ‘strength’ and ‘power.’ In addition to its meanings, it is revered for its simple design that evokes dignity and grace regardless of whether it used for tattoos or on decorative items and the likes.

The interesting thing about the Chikara symbol is that there’s more to it than is visible at a first glance. The J-shaped stroke beside the leftward-slanting line is a rough representation of a plough. Also, it paints a picture of an arm bending out from the side of a body –like how a hero would show off their biceps by flexing their arm. 

You will often see Japanese soldiers wearing the Chikara symbol as pendants to inspire courage and strength. The Japanese also use the Chikara symbol, along with the image of a lion, to reinforce the idea of bravery and valor.

For this reason, you will often find a pair of lion statues guarding the entrances to important places, such as temples and shrines, in various parts of the country. The Japanese also symbolize strength and self-sacrifice in different colors like brown, red, and gold. 

Kanzen – Japanese Symbol for Perfection

Kanzen is one of the most famous Japanese symbols, not just in Japan but in several other countries across the world. This is mainly because the Japanese are renowned for their organization skills, and for taking a methodical approach to practically everything in life. Be it their trains that are always on time or the streets that are perfectly spotless, everything in the country is highly systemized. 

Kanzen also illustrates the idea of ‘being whole’ and a feeling of ‘completeness’ or ‘fullness’ achieved by the Japanese when they complete a particular task without making any mistakes, such that it leaves no room for improvement.

Kiku – Japanese Symbol for Longevity

Kiku, which is a stylized version of a chrysanthemum, is used to signify longevity and rejuvenation in Japanese. 

Chrysanthemum plays an important role in Japanese culture. It is the national flower of the country, as well as the emblem of the royal family in Japan.

You will find the Kiku symbol on the Imperial Seal of Japan that shows the chrysanthemum with all its petals spreading outwards like bright sun rays. 

The Kiku symbol also hints towards happiness, wealth, and good luck – all of which are the rudimentary elements needed for long and prosperous life. 

Ryuu – Japanese Symbol for Dragon

The Ryuu symbol is highly revered in Japan since it represents dragons that are akin to angels in religions like Christianity.  

Various narrations in Japanese mythology refer to a dragon named Ryujin. Ryujin is believed to rule over the oceans and has the power to control tidal waves. The first emperor of Japan, Emperor Jimmu, is said to be a descendant of Ryujin. 

Since Ryujin possesses extraordinary strength, the Ryuu symbol alludes to endurance and eternity. It also symbolizes divine wisdom and godly powers.  

Kokoro – Japanese Symbol for Heart and Spirit 

The Kokoro sign basically symbolizes the heart, but in the broader sense, it also encompasses all feelings and emotions, as well as intellect and the spirit itself.  

Conceptually, the Kokoro symbol is a unified representation of the heart, mind, and spirit. In certain contexts, it also implies dignity, nobility, grace, and virtue. 

If you want to praise a person in Japanese, saying that they have a ‘good Kokoro’ is the perfect way to go about it. It might seem simple, but for the people of Japan, it is a compliment of the highest degree. 

Other Japanese Symbols and Their Meanings

  • Yuuki is the Japanese symbol for ‘courage’ while ‘yuukan’ is the symbol for ‘bravery.’
  • Biyou is the Japanese symbol for ‘beauty.’
  • Rikuguo is used to represent the ‘cosmos’ in Japanese.
  • Unmei signifies ‘destiny.’ 
  • Shinnen is the Japanese symbol for ‘belief.’
  • Igen depicts dignity.
  • Ikari symbol in the Japanese alphabet means ‘anger’ in English whereas ‘okoterru’ (consisting of the Ikari symbol followed by three distinct curvy strokes) means ‘angry.’
  • Genki illustrates well-being.
  • Chie stands for wisdom.
  • Koufuku denotes happiness.

We hope we could satisfy your curiosity about Japanese symbols and their meanings with this post. Please kindly check out our very large symbols and meanings section from the top menu if you would like to read more about symbols.