Samurai tattoos are often meant to represent all of the things that actual samurais lived by: courage, honor, self sacrifice, and living life to its fullest. In Japan, the samurai is the ultimate emblem of masculinity and pride; around the world their image is seen as something strong and mysterious, brave and seductive.
Many samurai tattoos are done in a portrait style. Unlike most portrait pieces, the majority of these tattoos are done in bold colors, and — although realistic in appearance — are often shown in the midst of heavy action. You may see a samurai in mid-air, swirling his sword, with hair coming unfurled and a determined expression on his thoroughly detailed face. A lot of people like to add small details to truly enhance this style of art. For example, you may see small scars along the arms of the warrior; you may also see intricate details on armor or robes, and a genuine and lifelike expression on his face.
Some people like to pull images from old woodblock-style paintings for their samurai tattoos. This style is regularly done in a perfect balance of muted and bold colors, and shows the samurai costume in full detail. These images often depict the samurai wielding his sword, sometimes on the back of a horse, on a mountain, or even rising from the ocean. One particularly unique depiction would be to show the modernization of the samurai: dressed in a more Western-style clothing, still with dark hair pulled back, and shining katana in hand.
Some samurai tattoos take on a more unique appearance. Many of these are done in a cartoon style, and are made up of bright colors, and classical Asian art fused with bombastic illustrations. Many of these piece show violent depictions, and may occasionally stretch the cartoon factor and create a sort of zombie samurai — out for revenge. Another unique idea would be to create a steam punk samurai. Much of the samurai armor had an almost robotic look to it, and you could easily tweak small pieces of the armor, as well as add items such as gears to the helmet, or even a gas mask and goggles.
Samurai tattoos often tell a story. Whether placed against an intricate background, set amidst a rousing fight, or standing all unto himself, a samurai will always make a statement with his history, beauty and mystery.