There is a whole universe of symbols with highly complex meanings in traditional Japanese tattoo design. This week, we continue looking at these images, and the many reasons people choose them to adorn their bodies.
Namakube is an image of a severed head, though like most Irezumi symbols, it doesn't carry a purely negative meaning, as many in the West would assume. It can mean courage, in the sense of facing one's mortality with no fear. It can certainly be a symbol of warning to one's enemies or of danger, but Namakubi also shows where death and even killing have their place in life when done for honor, protection or some other noble aim.
While the snake has gotten a seriously bad rap in some circles, what with the whole "Eve-Apple" incident and all, in Eastern cultures, it is a revered symbol of wisdom, protection, mystical powers and much more. Change is a commom association, as the snake sheds its skin and is reborn. If you are looking for a symbol of great power and layered meaning, the Hebi may be for you.
the Japanese word for the Peony flower, it is known as the King of flowers, or "the rose without thorns." Interestingly, though Irezumi designs are at times filled with flowers, it is only select types that are traditionally used for tattoo. Also, the peony has a bit of an edgy reputation in the East, unlike in the West. It can be a symbol of daring, surprisingly enough.
Believe it or not, Canada does not own a copyright on the maple leaf symbol. It is an important image for the Japanese as well, and in their culture it takes on a very poetic interpretation. Often shown as blown by the wind, it represents the life cycle, the passing of time, as maple leaves change with the seasons. It can also be a symbol for lovers.