Namakubi Tattoos:

Namakubi tattoos are one of the most popular and recognizable motifs in Japanese tattooing.

Alessandro Lauricella
More of a neo Japanese style hand namakubi, done by Alessandro Lauricella.
Hide Ichibay Three Tides Tattoo Tokyo
Very traditional lady namakubi done by Hide Ichibay at Three Tides Tattoo in Tokyo.
Ichi tattoo
Namakubi chest piece done by Ichi Hatano at Ichi Tattoo in Tokyo.
sergey vaskevich
Namakubi and snake done by Sergey Vaskevich in Warsaw, Poland.
zachblacktattoos
Heavily stylized namakubi done by Zach Black at Akara Arts Tattoo  in Wisconsin.

Namakubi are severed heads, usually fresh, and sometimes impaled on stakes, arrows, or swords/knives.

Alex Rusty Artist:owner at @Lighthouse_Tattoo in Sydney, Australia
Blue and bloody namakubi done by Alex Rusty at Lighthouse Tattoo in Sydney, Australia.
Horiei Shinshu 信州 彫英 based in Japan🇯🇵Matsumoto City,Nagano
Neo Japanese piece done by Horiei Shinshu in Matsumoto, Japan.
Jeremy Deboer • Tattooing since 2011 • INK WIZARDS- Adelaide
Broken katana through the head done by Jeremy Deboer in Adelaide.
Shinya Studio Muscat Tokyo
Heavy black piece by Shinya at Studio Muscat in Tokyo, Japan.

Namakubi can have a number of different meanings including respect for the enemy, overcoming a fear, or accepting ones own fate with honour.

Andrew Nectar Fine Tattooing, Lethbridge Alberta
Three arrows through a head in a more American traditional style piece. Done by Andrew Nectar at Fine Tattooing in Lethbridge, Alberta.
Horihana Kirin Tattoo Brasil
Bleeding head done by Horihana at Kirin Tattoo in Brasil.
Lango Oliveira at Black Heart Tattoo in San Francisco
Ghastly namakubi done by Lango Oliveira at Black Heart Tattoo in San Francisco.
Stephen Doan
Blackwork namakubi with arrows done by Stephen Doan.

In ancient Japanese history, taking the head of ones enemy is the ultimate sign of respect and honour. It is also a representation of life’s full circle coming to an end.

Ash Davies Stronghold Tattoo, Cardiff Bay
Sword right through the cheeks by Ash Davies at Stronghold Tattoo in Cardiff Bay.
Horishige Osaka Japan
Japanese namakubi part of a bodysuit, done by Horishige in Osaka, Japan.
Matteo Ceccarini ◇JAPANESE TATTOOING◇ Black Line Tattoo Studio, Mallorca:Extreme Needle Tattoo Studio, London
Half sleeve with maple leaves done by Matteo Ceccarini at Extreme Needle Tattoo Studio in London, England.
Tamar Karp Now taking bookings at The Black Lodge, Portishead...Bristol
Crazy eyed namakubi done by Tamar Karp at The Black Lodge in Bristol.

Namakubi are almost always done in a traditional Japanese style, but can also be done in neo Japanese, neo traditional, and American traditional styles.

Dan Arietti Tattooist:owner Black sails tattoo Brighton
Rotting neo traditional namakubi done by Dan Arietti at Black Sails Tattoo in Brighton.
Horiyoshi 3 Yokohama Japan
Sliced open namakubi done by Horiyoshi the third in Yokohama, Japan.
Rich Handford Kapala Tattoo Winnipeg
Matching legs done by Rich Handford at Kapala Tattoo in Winnipeg Manitoba.
Zach Black Akara Arts Tattoo, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Another neo Japanese piece done by Zach Black at Akara Arts Tattoo in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Which is your favourite?

Artist of the Month: Horiyoshi III

Horiyoshi the third (Nakano Yoshihito) is a tattoo artist from the Yokohama area of Japan. He is a legend to many in the tattoo world, as well as an intelligent, thoughtful, and charming man.

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Horiyoshi III with sword.

His interest in the art of tattoos first started when he was 11 years old after seeing a tattooed man at the public bath, and developed further when as a high school student he found a book with illustrations and engravings of tattooed men.

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A young Horiyoshi III showing off his tattoos.

At age 22 he got his first tattoo, a full back piece, from the great Horiyoshi II. He later became a pupil under Horiyoshi II at age 25, as he needed to learn more about the art in order to become a tattoo artist.

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Tattooing with a machine.

Horiyoshi III is not only an amazing artist, but has a full body suit done in traditional Japanese style, which took 12-13 years to complete. His tattooing is also large scale pieces, often full body suits, back pieces, or leg or arm sleeves.

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Body suits, finished, and unfinished.

Irezumi, or traditional Japanese tattoos are often associated with the yakuza (Japanese mafia), because members used to have intricate body suits to show their status. Horiyoshi III used to tattoo many yakuza members, back when tattooing was much less common than it is now, but says about 10% of his clients are still yakuza members. Yakuza members have actually started lasering off their tattoos, or hiding them more, as well as not encouraging new members to get visible pieces, because it is such an easy way to identify someone. Instead, Japan is slowly moving towards tattoos being more accepted and about the art again.

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Full torso irezumi.

Horiyoshi III originally learned tattooing with the tebori method, or “tebori you no nomi”, which means “the hand digging tool”. This is a tool that is shaped like a stick, with needle points at the end, which is then dipped into ink, and jabbed repeatedly into the skin. It is a much slower way of tattooing than the modern machine now, but can still create intricate and detailed pieces of art. Horiyoshi III is also skilled with the tattoo machine, which he learned how to use later in life.

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Tebori tool refined by Horiyoshi III.

Horiyoshi III says there are four steps to the perfect tattoo. The drawing, outlining, shading, and finally colour. He then compares these steps to life. He says outlining is like planning your life, clarifying your ideas. That tattooing can be compared to life because every needle stroke counts, just like every second counts. That every line must be done with care, that life must be cherished.

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Bright and colourful full body suits.
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Suits like these can take hundreds of hours, and years to complete.

What is your favorite Horiyoshi III tattoo?

Hannya Tattoo

Hannya tattoos are an intimidating Japanese design based off masks that date back to Japanese Noh and Bunraku plays from the 14th century. These plays often dealt with the supernatural. These masks were carved from wood and were used to show a character’s state of mind, which from these masks was usually anger, hatred, and sadness. The Hannya in particular represents a woman betrayed by love who is then filled with hate, jealousy, and sadness, turning her into a demon. This image is also a popular design for good luck, as the terrifying demon is supposed to ward off evil spirits.

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Traditional Japanese theatre masks, including a Hannya.

The Hannya is supposed to show different emotions based on how you’re looking at it. From the front it is supposed to look menacing and full of hatred, but from an angle from the top, it is supposed to appear full of sadness. These mixed emotions are meant to reflect the complexities of humans.

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Back piece done by Shige at Yellow Blaze Tattoo

Hannya tattoos are obviously a Japanese design, but don’t necessarily have to be done in the typical Japanese style for tattooing. While the majority are done in Japanese style, they can also be done in a more American Traditional style, neo traditional, or new school design.

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More neo traditional Hannya done by Dan Molloy at Bold as Brass.
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By Dean Sacred in his unique Japanese influenced style.

Hannya’s are also typically done in a fairly large design. They are often done as a full back piece, or on the stomach, or as part of a full sleeve. They can be done as a smaller tattoo as well, such as on the hand or as a stand alone arm or leg piece.

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Three full body pieces featuring a Hannya done by Ivan Szazi at Four Elements Tattoo.
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Small hand Hannya by Mick Gore

The Hannya is also often paired with other Japanese designs, such as snakes, warriors, waves, flowers, or dragons, which all have their own meanings and their own roots in Japanese culture.

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Sleeves with other Japanese imagery by Senju Horimatsu

The colour of a Hannya changes the meaning as well. It is said that the deeper the colour, the more malicious the demon is supposed to be.

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Amazing back piece by the brilliant Horiyoshi III.

What do you think of Hannya tattoos?