Samurai tattoo designs have a shocking amount of history behind them. If that's something that interests you, check out my detailed analysis of Samurai Tattoo history here and learn all about "Irezumi" (入れ墨, 入墨, 紋身, 刺花, 剳青, 黥 or 刺青).
If you on the other hand you are looking for your next or very first tattoo design, you might consider Samurai tattoos which are quite popular and I've a few described below.
Samurai tattoo designs are unique on their own; they are not only nice to look at but are symbolic as well. Some of the many meanings behind samurai tattoos are;
Another good thing about Samurai tattoo designs is that you are not limited to a few designs to choose from because there are so many varieties. And since they are associated with the Japanese culture, Samurai tattoos are often designed with a variety of symbols of Japan’s culture. Most samurai are depicted with their katana (Samurai's sword), cherry blossom, dragons, koi, yin yang, Geisha, or tigers.
Samurai tattoos can be done in different sizes and are inked nearly anywhere on the body but usually the arms and back are more commonly chosen for samurai tattoo designs. To help you decide on that, here are some of them and their respective representation.
Samurai Face Tattoo
The facial expression of the samurai portrays the violence and courage of a samurai, thus one must carefully choose the kind of expression of the face in this design. If you wish to portray the wisdom of the samurai, go for a peaceful look; or pick an aggressive one if you are going for a fearless, violent look.
Skull Samurai Tattoo
This design conveys might and power which is typical attributes of a samurai. Also, a skull in samurai attire looks funky and cool too!
Half Sleeve Samurai Tattoo
This design is simply a samurai warrior in action, but not so simple because it illustrates the samurai at its very best and exposes all its ability and brilliance. So if you are looking for a tattoo that speaks up for you this is an ideal choice.
Samurai in Kanji Lettering
Kanji tattoos are creative, unique, and mysterious. Each Kanji character can symbolize a name, thing or an idea and thus kanji tattoos hold a meaning. This is indeed a very good choice in expressing yourself in terms of body ink.
Samurai face with Brilliant Eyes
The design of a samurai dressed in its armor with merely the eyes peeking out of its helmet’s opening is truly beautiful. The emotion in the eyes that you see through the mask expresses all that the samurai was intended to.
Samurai with a Red Face
A samurai’s face bursting in red is in no doubt a scary image. It shows boiling rage or anger, and if you want to ward off unwanted stares, this tattoo design is for you.
Samurai Tattoo and Japanese Dragon
A Japanese dragon intensifies the message of strength of a samurai warrior. This is an excellent choice if you want to portray masculinity and strength.
Samurai Warrior with Kanji Symbols
What is better than combining a samurai warrior with Kanji characters? The intricate detailing of the samurai and the kanji symbols represent the Bushido laws (strict moral code of principles) also known as "the way of the warrior". They go together and makes the tattoo a whole lot more exquisite and meaningful. Juts be VERY careful with this one.
I've seen people proudly show off a Japanese Kani tattoo and tell me it reads honor, respect, etc when it's actually gibberish or worse - an insult. I once saw a tattoo that claimed the tattoo owner liked unsavoury sexual acts with animals and he showed it off saying it was martial arts quote. Don't get writing on you unless you can read the writing. :-)
If you want a samurai tattoo, it's better to understand the background and culture associated with them. If you're really interested and want to learn more about Samurai Tattoos then check out these excellent books on the topic -
You can also check out this documentary on the Yakuza - it's a little sensationalistic and I'd take much of this with a pinch of salt, but it does show some excellent examples of Irezumi and Horimono
And this is a very shot piece from National Geographic on Horimono...