There are many people, especially in the Western world, who romanticize Japanese culture.
It would only make sense that people from a relatively young country would be drawn to this ancient imagery, steeped in mythology and religious practices.
Few Japanese legacies compare to the Samurai in terms of popularity.
The Kabuto helmet, worn by the Samurai class in battle, is a popular tattoo for both men and women.
Some get Kabuto tattoos to honor their own background, other simply have a deep admiration for the Samurai.
But, who are Samurai really?
For all the romance around these fierce fighters, they remain largely misunderstood.
So, if you’re one of those people who daydream in Japanese, here’s a crash course in Samurai and the significance of a Kabuto tattoo.
Who Are The Samurai?
Firstly, it’s important to create a distinction between Samurai and another popular historical figure from Japan.
Many people lump Samurai and Ninja together when they are in fact quite different!
So let’s start at the very beginning, shall we?
Samurai and Ninja are both warriors, and they fight their opponents.
Aside from being of Japanese origin, those are the only similarities.
Samurai belonged to the noble class in Japan.
They worked tirelessly for the government and didn’t expect a fee, it was their honor to serve.
They fought with a specific code of ethics in mind, and would only fight face to face.
In addition to their Kabuto helmet, they would wear a kimono.
Young Samurai wore flashier kimonos, but would often go for a more subtle fabric after their coming of age ceremony.
Ninjas are the complete opposite of Samurai in terms of fighting.
They were typically lower class, and would work for anyone who had the money.
Their fighting style was considered unorthodox, because they did not follow any specific rules.
Ninja were all about the espionage of a kill- they would never fight someone face to face.
A ninja out-fixes, outsmarts, and blindsides. Ninjas need to move quickly so they wear tight fitting clothing in dark colors to remain mysterious.
What is a Kabuto?
If you think the Kabuto helmet looks familiar, you are not alone!
George Lucas was inspired by a Kabuto when designing Darth Vader’s signature look.
But Lucas wasn’t looking for Vader to emulate any old Samurai- he had an iconic one in mind.
After all, a legendary character needs some legendary inspiration.
Date Masamune, born in 1567, was one of many feudal lords in the Tohoku region.
He was ambitious in his ascent to power from a young age, and did not let things like his blindness in one eye stop him.
Masamune lost the vision in his right eye to smallpox at a young age. He seemed to let that spur him on to become even better, though.
Masamune was a tactical expert and was known as “The One Eyed Dragon of Ōshu.”
As for Masamune’s Kabuto helmet- he wore a large crescent moon on the top.
This flashy choice showed his bold nature, and made him visible on the battlefield.
This was his way of maintaining control over his men.
The crescent moon was also designed to break off easily if someone were to try and pull him down by it.
Samurai would often have custom Kabuto to show off his personality, as a status symbol, or to show what class they belonged to.
The crafting of a Kabuto is almost a religious experience, and wearing one would be similar to wearing a headdress in Native American culture.
It is a great honor to represent your country as a Samurai and wear your own Kabuto.
Parts Of The Kabuto
Though Samurai may have embellished their helmets, there are key elements to each Kabuto helmet.
Hachi: the dome atop the helmet comprised of overlapping plates.
Tehen: atop the Hachi, the Tehen is a small opening; this is usually embellished with an ornamental grommet.
Mabizashi: the visor on the front of the helmet, the most distinct and “vader-like” quality the Kabuto helmet has to offer.
Ukebari: a lining made of cloth.
Tsunamoto: a Samurai would attach his crest to these points on their helmet.
Kasa Jirushi No Kan: a ring at the back of the dome for securing a small flag.
Fukigaeshi: the distinct, wing-like projections on either side of the Hachi.
Shikoro: a neck guard
And a Shinobi-no-o: this functions as a chin guard.
Common Themes In Kabuto Tattoos
Samurai are universally revered, and having a tattoo of one is not something you should take lightly!
A Kabuto tattoo has great meaning to the Japanese people- are you ready to take that on?
Here are a few of the themes that a Samurai tattoo represent:
Masculinity. Honor. Courage. Discipline. Life/Death. Warrior. Nobility.
There are also winning combinations a person can choose when having their Kabuto tattoo designed.
Samurai and Koi Fish: a symbol of fighting upstream and overcoming grand obstacles.
Samurai and Dragon: a natural match for how revered they are in Japanese culture; this Kabuto tattoo represents strength and courage.
Rising Sun & Samurai: Japan is known as “the land of the rising sun,” so this would be a beautiful way to represent Japanese heritage!
There are many possibilities, depending on what you’d like to convey or invite into your life.
Talk to a Japanese tattoo expert about choosing the right Kabuto helmet for you.
Kabuto Tattoo Ideas
Because Kabuto helmets are so important to the Japanese culture, it is an honor to wear one on your body.
Do not take that honor lightly!
Do some research before diving in- starting with our gallery below!
If you feel a Kabuto tattoo is not for you, perhaps you can find something fierce and specific to your ancestry for your new ink!
To read more about Japanese style tattoos, go to:
- Japanese Masks Tattoos
- Yokai Tattoos
- Kendo Tattoo
- Daikijin Tattoo
- Kokeshi Doll Tattoo
- Maneki Neko Tattoo
- Fujin Tattoos
- Namakubi Tattoos
- Nue Tattoos
- Ebisu Tattoos
- Karura and Garuda Tattoos
- Kirin Tattoos
- Fudo Myoo Tattoos
- Heikegani Tattoos
- Japanese Snake Tattoos
- Raijin Tattoos
- Foo Dog Tattoos