The Namakubi Tattoo Design: Symbolism And Explanation

The Namakubi Tattoo Design: Symbolism And Explanation

- in Tattoo Meanings

The Namakubi tattoo is a unique and striking design with historical significance, deep meanings, and rich symbolism. “Namakubi” is a Japanese term that translates to “severed head” in English. This tattoo style originates from Japan’s feudal era, where it was closely associated with the samurai culture and the code of Bushido.


 During feudal Japan, the samurai class played a significant role in society. These warriors followed a strict code of ethics, Bushido, emphasizing virtues like loyalty, honor, and bravery. Samurai were often engaged in fierce battles, and collecting the heads of defeated enemies as trophies was considered an honorable act. Namakubi

The severed heads, or Namakubi, were presented to warlords and generals as proof of courage and accomplishment on the battlefield. This practice was a display of martial prowess and intended to instill fear in their adversaries.

Meanings and Symbolism:

  1. Bravery and Courage: The Namakubi tattoo represents bravery and courage in adversity. It signifies the willingness to confront and overcome challenges, just as the samurai did in their battles.

  2. Strength and Honor: The tattoo symbolizes strength and honor, reflecting the samurai’s commitment to their code of conduct and unwavering loyalty to their lords.

  3. Triumph Over Adversity: The Namakubi tattoo can also symbolize triumph over challenges and enemies, representing the act of collecting the heads of defeated foes.

  4. Mortality and Impermanence: Additionally, this tattoo serves as a reminder of mortality and the impermanence of life. It reflects on the transient nature of existence and the acceptance of death as an inevitable part of life.

Design and Explanation: 

The Namakubi tattoo typically depicts a severed head, often that of a defeated enemy, portrayed in a detailed and realistic manner. The design may include samurai helmets, headbands, or other traditional warrior attire to enhance the tattoo’s symbolism.

In modern tattoo art, the Namakubi design can be modified to incorporate various elements such as cherry blossoms (symbolizing the beauty and transience of life), dragons (representing strength and power), or waves (symbolizing life’s ups and downs). The tattoo may be depicted in different artistic styles, such as traditional Japanese Irezumi or contemporary approaches.

It’s essential to approach this tattoo with respect for its historical and cultural significance. Understanding the deeper meanings and symbolism behind the Namakubi tattoo can help you appreciate and honor its traditional roots while incorporating your interpretation into the design.

Placement and Personalization: 

The placement of the Namakubi tattoo can vary depending on personal wishes and the size of the design. Some individuals display it prominently on their upper arm, shoulder, or back, while others opt for more discreet locations like the calf or inner forearm. The size of the tattoo may also depend on the level of detail and the specific elements incorporated into the design.

When getting a Namakubi tattoo, it’s essential to consider personalization. While the traditional design holds historical significance, you can work with a skilled tattoo artist to add elements and symbolism. For example, you may incorporate specific facial features to represent a loved one, or you could include motifs with personal meaning, like family crests or significant dates.

Respect and Cultural Sensitivity: 

Given the historical and cultural background of the Namakubi tattoo, it’s crucial to approach this design with respect and cultural sensitivity. If you’re not of Japanese descent, it’s essential to recognize the significance of this tattoo in Japanese history and not trivialize or appropriate its meaning.

Before getting a Namakubi tattoo, take the time to learn about its history, cultural context, and the values it represents. Engaging in respectful conversations with people with knowledge and experience with Japanese culture and tattoos can provide important insights and help you make an informed decision.

Tattoo Artist Selection: 

Choosing the right tattoo artist for a Namakubi design is crucial. Look for an artist experienced in Japanese-style tattoos and who respects the traditional elements and symbolism of the Namakubi. Review their portfolio and previous work to ensure they can create the level of detail and realism required for such a tattoo.

Additionally, have a consultation with the artist to discuss your ideas, the desired placement, and any personalization you wish to add to the design. A skilled artist can guide you and create a unique and meaningful Namakubi tattoo that aligns with your vision.

After getting a Namakubi tattoo, taking proper care of it during the healing process and throughout its lifespan is essential. Follow your tattoo artist’s aftercare instructions diligently to ensure the best possible outcome and to prevent infection or complications.


As you wear your Namakubi tattoo, be prepared for questions from others, as it is a design that can spark curiosity due to its unique and striking nature. Take this opportunity to educate others about the historical and cultural significance of the Namakubi tattoo, helping to foster understanding and appreciation for Japanese traditions.

Lastly, remember that tattoos are a form of self-expression and can carry deeply personal meanings. If you choose to get a Namakubi tattoo, make sure it aligns with your values and resonates with your life journey. Tattoos can be powerful reminders of personal growth, milestones, or lessons learned.

Suppose you find the historical symbolism of the Namakubi tattoo compelling but have reservations about getting a tattoo of a severed head. In that case, you can explore alternative designs that embody the essence of bravery, courage, and honor without being as graphic. Your tattoo artist can help you develop a custom design that encapsulates these virtues while maintaining cultural sensitivity.

The Namakubi tattoo holds a fascinating historical background, deep meanings, and potent symbolism. If you choose to wear this design, do so with respect for its origins and cultural significance. Take pride in the courage and honor it represents, and embrace the opportunity to educate others about this captivating Japanese history and tradition aspect. Remember that tattoos are personal expressions of identity and values, and your Namakubi tattoo should ultimately hold a meaningful place in your life’s journey.

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