During a battle, the samurai would collect the heads of their opponents. Once taken, the heads would be returned to the base camp for registration. The name of the victor, his weapon used, any other circumstances regarding the duel and the name of the head was recorded on a piece of stiff paper and tied to the hair queue. The head was cleaned, prepared and perfumed for display, a task completed by specially trained women.
If a samurai found himself too “busy” to take the head off for registration, or his assistants had already left the field with other heads, cutting off the upper lip and nose together was also acceptable. Then, after the battle had ended, and after reuniting the pieces like a macabre jigsaw puzzle, the head could be properly cut off or reclaimed. For reasons unknown, any heads missing the lip and nose were known as onnakubi, or “woman’s heads.”
Incidentally, the record number of heads taken by a single man in combat at the Battle of Sekigahara was Kani Saizo, a samurai serving under Fukushima Masanori, who took a claimed 22 heads, but could only prove 17 kills, still winning the stakes for the most heads taken.
Chris Glenn is an Australian born bilingual radio DJ, TV presenter, helicopter pilot, narrator, lecturer, samurai history and culture researcher, and member of the Japan Armor and Weapons Research and Preservation Society. He first visited Japan as an exchange student in 1985, returning in 1992. He lives in Nagoya, Japan.