The Japanese Tiger Symbol and its Meaning

The Japanese Tiger Symbol and its Meaning


虎 "Tora" is the Japanese word for tiger, originated from southern China, deriving from the word "taira". Although, they have never lived in the wilds within Japan, they have been long known and so highly esteemed and feared among the Japanese as shown from arts, stories and skins.

One story commonly told today coined the phrase - FURUYA NO MORU WA  TORA O-KAMI YORI MO OSOROSHII ( 古屋の漏るは虎狼よりも恐ろしい) meaning, a leaky roof is more terrible than a tiger,  showing how feared tigers are, they have been the standard of fear, awe, or scariness. 

Tora or Tigers in Japan also symbolizes protection against evil and bad energies. Some temples in Kyoto, Japan design their gardens with guardian tigers instead of the usual guardian lions.

Tora is regarded as a protective creature, who roars like thunder, scaring away demons and spirits. They are depicted as “noble subjects” and often used as a symbol for the first rank of a  military official. 

Tigers in Early Japanese Arts

Although not native to the islands of Japan, tigers have been frequently depicted in Japanese arts. Mostly by Samurai warriors in the Medieval and Modern Period (14C to 19C) loves to collect paintings of Tigers that depict tigers. For Samurai warriors, tiger for them symbolizes strength in which they highly value.

Many Japanese artists studied tiger painting and have tried to make their own art even though they have never seen a real one before. There is not a single tiger in Japan, and no one dared to bring one out of fear and danger.  Instead, the Japanese modeled cats as the closest alternative.

If you ever wondered why Japanese paintings of tigers are cuter and stiff compared to Chinese paintings of tigers, that is because nobody has seen one before. Artifacts of Japanese tiger arts look more like a mere cat that failed to become a tiger. 

Japanese Tigers on Ink

Tora has been immortalized in many different ways in Japan. More particularly through irezumi or Japanese style tattoos. Some do it for symbolic reasons, respect for the creature or just personal style.

The Tora tattoo has been a symbol for a number of strong emotional meanings. It can symbolize Courage, Ferocity, Passion, Power, Strength or Violence. The perception has been guided by certain Asian cultures, primarily in the Zodiac Calendar.

Tora tattoos are a matter of personal representation and not a public opinion. Consent from any other person should be absent as these art are a symbol of personal perspective and style. No one should tell you that you can’t get a tiger tattoo. 

In modern spirituality, Tora is depicted as a symbol of courage and personal strength. It is commonly used as a tattoo design that symbolizes one that has faced himself, in terms of identity and emotions.

Are you ready to wear your own power? Go over to irezumi Empire and see which one speaks to you the most!

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.