Namakubi Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

Namakubi Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

One of the boldest designs that you might be lucky enough to see or to wear yourself is the Namakubi. A severed head, inked in the Japanese style, certainly stand out — but what does it mean? Today we’re going to take a closer look at Namakubi tattoos so that you can find out about the symbolism, meanings, and more.

Let’s take a look at namakubi and what these scary severed heads are really all about!


What is the History of Namakubi Tattoos?

If you aren’t Japanese, the sight of a namakubi might be a bit disquieting, to say the least. The namakubi are severed heads, drawn=up in traditional Japanese style, but there’s a little more to them than that. They are meant to be a depiction of the moment of Seppuku, or ritual suicide.

More specifically, they are meant as Samurai Seppuku. These famous warriors were the stuff of legends and rather than be captured by the enemy or live after bringing dishonor or shame to their family, these Japanese knights would take their own lives.

The reason that head is severed is because the process was a twofold thing. The Samurai would drive his knife blade into his own abdomen and a second, trusted person would be there to swing his sword and remove his head with it.

Needless to say, the character required to do this in the name of personal honor is immense – so while namakubi tattoos are a bit grisly, they are depicting something bordering on sacred for the Samurai way of life. There are also Namakubi with Geisha heads, however, and we’ll tell you about those shortly!


What Do Namakubi Tattoos Symbolize?

Namakubi tattoos symbolize the personal honor and self-discipline of the wearer, in most cases, although they might also be worn as a way of symbolizing the importance of dignity. Namakubi tattoos don’t only depict the owner’s head, however, and could be the head of someone completely different.

In such cases, this symbolizes the owner’s admiration for that person, be it for their beliefs, personal honor, their strength, or their general character, and while it’s a bit of a morbid and hardcore way to express it, what you are seeing is essentially a very high compliment indeed.

You will sometimes see namakubi tattoos with Geisha heads on them, as well, but the symbolism behind these is all about love, faithfulness, and freedom. This is because of the Edo period of Japanese history, when an unfaithful woman could be boiled alive, beaten to death, or yes… beheaded.

These sorts of namakubi thus symbolize the willingness to die and to suffer for the right to love another and the freedom to do so as they will – no matter the cost.


What Do Namakubi Tattoos Mean?

Namakubi tattoos can mean a lot of things. Many are drawn to the art for its striking aesthetics, of course, and because along with their long history, these simply aren’t tattoos that you’re going to see every day.

For others, they might be worn to show that the owner appreciates Japanese culture and art.

Many will wear Namakubi tattoos, however, to express aspects of who they are or who they admire. One might have a namakubi made of their own head, as a samurai or a geisha, to capture the original meaning of this kind of art, while other’s might honor a fallen friend or foe with this ultimate expression.

It’s hardcore, to say the least, and not a tattoo for just anyone. To the right person, however, namakubi tattoos are an exact, perfect, and skin-tight fit.


Where Do Namakubi Tattoos Usually Go?

While the location is going to be up to you, the upper, outer arm is a common placement for smaller namakubi, so that they might be easily displayed or hidden. While this could be said of the ankle, this spot is usually not selected – after all, as bold as these tattoos are, the owners usually want high visibility.

Not always, though. Some might put namakubi on the hip, for instance, as a brutally intimate message to those who get to see the tattoo about exactly whom they are getting close to.

Namakubi are probably displayed the most on back pieces, where the distinctive Japanese style may be done in grand fashion, often as a part of a larger scene or setting. This allows one to showcase the signature style, while also incorporating lots of color (and yes, a lot of that color will be blood!).

They’re bold tattoos, so while they are sometimes placed out of sight, when this happens it is usually because that out of sight place has more skin area so that the namakubi might be displayed in it’s full, grisly glory!


Characteristics and Styles of Namakubi Tattoos

When you see a Namakubi tattoo, the first thing that comes to mind is a bit of shock. It is, of course, a decapitated head, often bloody and brutalized. While you could certainly go with other styles for it, it will most commonly be rendered in traditional Japanese style.

Tattoo art is all about the wearer, however, so you aren’t limited to ‘Japanese-only’ depictions, and some folks might choose to display their namakubi in a way that demonstrates other aspects of their personality. New School style, for instance, can carry the same hardcore message, but ‘say it with a smile’.

Watercolor can bring vibrant coloration into the depiction and incorporate a non-traditional color palette into a piece, while others might get even more complex and go Geometrical, as if to say they are the modern and cyber-equivalent of the Samurai or Geishas of old.

It all boils down to what you are trying to say and your personal aesthetic tastes, so take your time and do it right. The end result is sure to (we can’t resist) turn some heads!


Some closing comments on Namakubi tattoos

In this article we’ve given you the scoop on namaubi tattoos. As you can see, these designs are definitely not for the faint of heart, but once you look behind the brutal delivery you can see that the message behind them is direct and serious.

If you like the symbolism, the history, or simply want some skin art that in undeniably hardcore, then you’ve found it. Nothing makes a statement quite like namakubi tattoos!

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