ART & TRIP! この夏は「名画」と「絶景」の旅へ!




Is a head clenching it’s teeth bad luck? In the sengoku period, good or bad luck was predicted by the ‘head that was struck down’

In battles during the sengoku period, warriors would cut off the heads of their fallen enemies and bring them back home. From the perspective of modern people, this is a cruel act that gives one goosebumps!

This head-taking was necessary as evidence of the warrior’s success. It is true that even if you verbally tell someone that they have killed an enemy, only they know if it is true or not.

These heads were then collected and ‘head inspection’* was carried out.
It is said that the purpose was to comfort the warriors of the enemy, but it is surprising that the heads were used for fortune telling!

*The head of an enemy killed on the battlefield was inspected by the general himself to ensure that it was indeed the head of the said owner.

Why were the heads used for fortune telling?

Not all of the living heads had their eyes closed, as the expression on their faces at the moment of the cut remains. They were looking to the right, looking down, and various other expressions were seen, so they used to fortell whether it was good or bad for their army. It does make you wonder if this was really necessary…

What kind of head is bad luck?

A head which was clenching it’s teeth was considered bad luck. Apparently they held a ‘head festival’ to ward off this bad luck. How creepy…

What else was considered bad luck?

The fact that one eye was closed was also considered unlucky. Although it does seem pretty rare to have only one eye closed at the moment of death…

What was considered good luck?

A head, with both eyes closed and a gentle, calm expression, was called ‘butsugen (Buddha’s eyes 仏眼)’ and was considered auspicious. Even after death, can you be considered noble?

Eyes looking to the right were considered good luck for the allies and bad luck for the enemy. Conversely, eyes looking to the left were considered good luck for the enemy and bad luck for the allies.

The split meaning between left and right is influenced by the idea that left is the direction that leads to survival, while right leads to death. The neck is placed in front of the body to determine good or bad luck, so if the eyes are looking to the right, it translates to the left side for the person looking at it.

What happened to your head afterwards?

When the head examination was over, the fresh head was apparently displayed to the public to announce the birth of the new victorious lord. The head was placed on a prison table and made an example. Sometimes the head was thrown away, in which case it was to be thrown in the direction of north. North seems to have been based on the meaning of escape.

In the case of a high-status warlord, he was placed in a head trough and politely sent back to the enemy country. This is sometimes seen in scenes from period dramas! In some cases, a head mound was erected and the head was mourned extensively. There are still mounds all over the country, so you may find one in your neighbourhood.

Featured image: from the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Reference: ‘Sengoku no saho (戦国の作法)’, supervised by Owada Tetsuo (小和田哲男), published by G.B. Corporation, Seisei-ban Nihon Kokugo Daijiten (精選版日本国語大辞典)

This article is translated from




When was the 'sengoku period' and for how long?

木村 悦子

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ART & TRIP! この夏は「名画」と「絶景」の旅へ!