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The tiger has long been a mystic and mysterious symbol in Asian culture, but even more so in Japan. While the tiger is not native to the islands, the Japanese long revered the majestic cat and featured it throughout their artwork. Drawing on the Chinese philosophy of Taoism, tigers are depicted as the feminine counterpart to the more masculine Japanese dragon. This fits with the concept of yin and yang with the dragon being the more active yang to the passive tiger yin. Throughout Japanese art, where there is a tiger, there is likely a dragon also.
In other references to the tiger and dragon, they each served as the opposites in nature. The dragon brings the clouds while the tiger brings the wind. They were seen to combine together to bring blessings, including rain and peace. In other senses, the tiger and dragon were regarded as heaven and earth. Still making a reference to the forces of nature, they would balance the winds and the waters and bring about security and a peaceful world.
While many Japanese tattoo artists had never seen a tiger before in the flesh, they used their house cats as models for the expression and movement of the beasts. 
With that in mind, many of the tattoos based on Japanese tiger art brings in elements that might be more familiar in your kitten than the tigers at the zoo. Still, there is something wonderful and powerful about these animals that is hard to ignore. Their strength and beauty makes them prime subjects for tattoo art, as well as the symbolism of strength and prowess. No matter what look you are going for, a Japanese tiger tattoo will stand out and make an impression.
Inspiring Japanese Tiger Tattoo Designs
Traditional Japanese Tiger Tattoo
A stylized black and white design, this Japanese tiger tattoo fits with the traditional symbols of nature. Surrounded by clouds, the tiger on the thigh partners with the dragon on the calf to bring about the change in weather. The shape of the head, jowls, and paws is more like conventional cat, which fits with the history of tiger depiction in Japanese art.
Fitting with the theme of bringing the rain, this bright Japanese tiger tattoo design matches the folklore of Japanese tigers. Creeping along, the crouching posture of the fearsome beast reflects the movement of the clouds and waves in the scene. The expression on the tiger also has an intensity that fits with the Chinese view of tigers as powerful protectors of the forest.
Hear Me Roar
An intense design, this Japanese tiger back tattoo shows the ferocity of the animal. The shadows accentuates every aspect of the tiger and makes it even more frightening. It is truly the intensity of the eyes that strike fear into the hearts of those who would look upon it. It is also interesting to note the spots on the tiger, as historic Japanese artists mistakenly believed that female tigers were spotted.
The facial structure and posture of this tiger shows the Japanese tendency to go more house cat than jungle cat in their depictions. You can also see the movement of the stripes to mimic clouds, continuing with traditional Japanese tiger tattoo meaning. Other Japanese themes fill out the design, such as the flowers, mountains, and bamboo.
Forces of Nature
Many historical elements are evident in this Japanese tiger tattoo sleeve. From the storm clouds to the cherry blossoms, symbols of Japanese lore and culture support the tiger design. Striking colors and the ferocious snarl of the tiger bring life to the piece.
Stylized Small Japanese Tiger Tattoo
Created more in the Himalayan art style, the tiger appears to be shrieking with a Japanese war cry. Using distinct colors of black, gray, and red continues with the Himalayan theme. A cool twist on the Japanese tiger tattoo that will pack a punch (appropriate for a hand tattoo).
Protector of Balance
As protector of the jungle, the tiger is territorial and assertive. In this Japanese tiger tattoo drawing, the tiger stands atop the boulder overseeing the area it is determined to defend. Seeing the opposing flowers and colors, there is a reflection of yin and yang. This ties back to the idea that the Japanese tiger is meant to bring balance.
In this Japanese tiger forearm tattoo, there are several levels of intensity. A given is the expression of the tiger in mid-attack, but this goes beyond the face. Claws extended, the tiger is ready to maul anything in its path. Additionally, the depth of the colors heightens the overall feeling of the tattoo.
Full Japanese Tiger Back Tattoo
A blend of colors and neutral space, this highly stylized tiger makes a huge statement. Going for the full back look provides an extreme look. In this design, it is easy to see by the look of the stripes that the Japanese based their tiger artwork on pelts rather than the real animal. Red flowers add another touch of detail to the design.
Again emphasizing the cat part of jungle cat, the crouching and expression of the tiger is reminiscent of a cornered cat. The curve of the tiger’s body and tail add movement to the design. Vibrant colors make this Japanese tiger forearm tattoo stand out.
Black and White Hand Tattoo
Going for a black and white look helps to make the expression of the tiger stand out in this small Japanese tiger tattoo. Using white highlights emphasizes the different aspects of the look. The different details of the artwork stand out with bold outlines.
Up to No Good
A traditional Japanese tiger tattoo design, this playful tiger-cat has the mischievous look of being up to no good. Slinking and moving through the darkness, a stealthy king searching for prey. The spots on the fur make the look more unique, as does the style of the facial features.
Splash of Color
Bright colors and deep outlines make this particular design. Water fits in with the traditional Japanese tiger meaning as a connection to nature, however the design of the animal itself is much truer to life than the historical depictions. Adding bright purple colors complements the water, while contrasting in an artistic way with the orange.
A different style of Japanese of tiger tattoo, this design incorporates a warrior with the tiger stripes on his face. The abstract look of the tattoo fits with historical Japanese artwork, from the bright colors and look of the figures. Water makes a cool background, as well as bringing another element of color.
On the Hunt
This is an alternative view of the beast, as though you are following behind the Japanese tiger up the forearm. The muscular power of the tiger is evident through the strong lines of the design. Going for a straight black look makes the tattoo spring off the forearm.
Japanese Tiger Dragon
As the tiger is commonly paired with a dragon in Japanese lore, it makes sense to go for a mashup of the two. A change to a typical Japanese tiger tattoo drawing, parts of both the tiger and the dragon work to make their own fearsome creature. Snarling expression, the extreme eyebrows, forked tongue, and bright blue color all combine in an intense tattoo.
Japanese Animal Sleeve
Fitting two tattoo pieces into one awesome design, the combination of different animals makes this jungle scene truly awesome. The painted background makes the tiger and fox stand out in this Japanese tiger tattoo sleeve. From the waterfall to the jungle, these images go with the various meanings of the tiger in Asian culture.
Beware the Yellow Eyes
The ferocious tiger, paired with a beautiful pink chrysanthemum, has the combined meanings of power and nobility. This Japanese tiger back tattoo gives the appearance of the tiger suddenly bursting through the jungle, perhaps to protect it against some threat. The intensity of the tiger is emphasized in the extension of the whiskers and the colors of the eyes.
Full Body Japanese Tiger Tattoo
This Japanese tiger back tattoo takes the idea of spirit animal to a whole new level. The tiger is coming up over the back as though he is looking over the shoulder, a protector of the person. Even down to the placement of the tail near the actual tailbone, giving the appearance of the tail belonging to the tattoo owner, the tiger and man are one.
Japanese tigers often get paired with aspects of nature to reference the spiritual nature of the tiger. Here, red and white flowers are the beautiful contrast to the terror of the tiger. Using the red and white in the design also makes the connection back to the Japanese flag. The size of this design makes it the perfect Japanese tiger arm tattoo.
Protector of the Dead
In Chinese culture, tigers are protectors of the dead, keeping evil spirits from tormenting them. This design, while it fits with the Japanese tiger tattoo drawing style, makes the connection back to the ancient Chinese lore. Using the skull and cord ties the ideas together. The bright colors of the tiger and the other elements make the design.
Thunder and Lightening
Several traditional Japanese tiger tattoo elements are present in this design. The stormy winds, cresting waves, and the skull in the ocean all connect back to the ancient lore of the tiger. The tiger itself shows power and ferocity in its expression. Going for a black and white look with this tattoo makes you search for the details and take time to appreciate the design.
From the samurai sword to the representation of the tiger as cat-like, the Japanese tiger artwork is evident. While this is a smaller Japanese tiger tattoo, the placement on the upper back works. This tattoo would also work on the forearm or shoulder as well. Going for a blue shade in the tiger gives a surreal look, and also a color contrast to the sword.
A much more stylized design, particularly in the face of the tiger, the colors and expression take this tattoo in a spookier direction. This seems like a tiger that would emerge from the mist depths of your dreams and turn it into a nightmare. A unique placement on the pelvis, this same Japanese tiger tattoo would work on the upper back.
Crouching Tiger, Blooming Lotus
Lotus flowers are seen in Asian cultures as a symbol of purity and enlightenment. Combined with the power and regal nature of the tiger, this Japanese tiger tattoo design shows two important aspects of Japanese culture. The colors are bright and intense, as is the expression of the snarling tiger.
Japanese Tiger Tattoo Sleeve and a Half
A unique take on a tattoo sleeve, the design splits between the chest, shoulder, and arm. Several elements of nature are integral to the piece, from flowers and succulents to the waves below the tiger. Clouds are also present, a traditional Japanese connection, and the swirls in the tiger’s reflect the cloud swirls. Bright colors add to the overall effect of the piece.
Tigers and Camellia
Gorgeous camellia, a Japanese flower associated with love and purity, is a fun pairing to the roaring tiger. Since the tiger is the feminine side of the yin and yang, it makes sense that the tiger would be connected to such symbols. The colors of these flowers also work with the bright orange of the tiger.
Intense Himalayan Tiger
Another nod to Himalayan artwork, the extreme nature of this small Japanese tiger tattoo comes across. Using the blues and reds in addition to the typical tiger colors heightens the Himalayan look. The symmetry of the tattoo makes this the perfect opportunity to use a tattoo stencil.
Motion and movement come through in this pouncing Japanese tiger tattoo design. Shades of gray give the design depth without needing to incorporate color. The curves and abstract look of the tiger fits with the traditional artwork.
Crouching Tiger, Ready to Pounce
This tattoo is all about the tiger. Without any other elements, you can focus just on the details of the beautiful animal itself. Deep colors, snarling expression, and muscles taut ready to pounce, this Japanese tiger drawing is about to leap right off the calf. ion
Black and White Tiger and Flowers
Sometimes, you just want a black and white look. Putting the tiger and the flowers into plain black with delicate shading makes a complex design seem elegant. The black and white also hearkens back to the traditional ink drawings of ancient China and Japan.
This Japanese tiger tattoo meaning moves to a new level with this gorgeous and detailed design. Almost as though it were a scene from a movie, the Japanese warrior has the tiger as a companion and protector. Working together as a team, they are one and possess the same qualities of strength, stealth, and mystery.
Tiger and Dragon, Yin and Yang
Truly, a traditional Japanese tiger tattoo design; the tiger and dragon are two matching halves of one whole in ancient Japanese culture. While color is absent from the design, gray shades work together to provide contrast between the animals and make them stand out from the background. The details of both the tiger and dragon are exquisite, making the tattoo.
Tiger Eyes on the Back of Your Head
An unusual placement, this cool Japanese tiger eyes tattoo design follows the curve of the head with the flow of the tiger’s body. The tiger looks as though it is about to leap right off of the skull and attack. Where the eyes are placed, they stare down anyone who would look at it. Going for a straight black look here makes the design stand out even further.
Emerging from the Jungle
This Japanese tiger tattoo seems ready to burst off the arm as it surges out of the brush. The ferocity of the attack as it protects the jungle fits with the Japanese tiger tattoo meaning. A splash of color in the leaves adds to the design without detracting from the tiger itself.
Using several different elements, this Japanese tiger tattoo sleeve is a fantastic work of art. From the backdrop of swirling sky, lush jungle, and crashing waves to the brightness of the tiger itself the craftsmanship cannot be denied. The tiger comes alive with the movement of the back and the facial expression, as though it were ready to attack. If you are a fan of full sleeves, this is a great look.
Japanese Tiger Thigh Tattoo
Another design that plays off the natural curves of the body, this Japanese tiger tattoo drawing moves down the hip and onto the thigh, following the natural turn of the tiger’s spine. Given the intimate placement, it is almost as if the tiger is daring someone to come closer with his ferocious growl. This same tattoo would work as part of a sleeve or forearm piece.
I’m Watching You
Green and yellow eyes make the gaze of this Japanese tiger tattoo drawing truly terrifying. Not only does the roar of this tiger make it intimidating, but several of the design elements also reflect the depiction of a dragon in Japanese art. That fits with the idea of the tiger and dragon as yin and yang in Japanese culture. Adding the black and white flowers gives a nice visual contrast to the brightness of the tiger.
Roaring in warning, the direction of the tiger’s gazes makes it clear that its anger is directly aimed at a particular threat. The warning of the roar is all they will get before the attack comes. Deep lines and shading make the tiger seem alive without any need for color. White highlights accent the lifelike design.
Yin and Yang, Tiger and Dragon
Another design with elements of both tiger and dragon, the fierceness of the creature comes forth in a realistic way. The eyebrows, beard, and even the sharp nature of the whiskers speak to the dragon. The rest is clearly the tiger roaring forth in anger. Given the smaller nature of the tattoo and detail of the design, this would be a good chance to use a tattoo stencil.
Japanese tiger tattoos have a particular art style that reflects the history of the great beast in ancient Japanese culture. Using different elements of mysticism from across the Asian continent, Japanese tigers are both ferocious and catlike, making the design of the tigers unique. Rather than go for a conventional tiger or tiger-eye tattoo look, the Japanese tiger tattoo designs give a stylized version with matchless artistic flair. Whether you go for bright colors or black and white, Japanese tiger tattoos will be a cool piece to add to your tattoo collection.
 Joshua Korenblat, “Tigers in Japanese Art,” Smithsonian Magazine, February 20, 2008
 “Animals in Japanese Folklore,” National Gallery of Art, 2019
Sharon Guynup. “Why Have Tigers Been Feared and Revered Throughout History?” National Geographic (blog). 2019