Interesting Japanese Ancient Custom: Ohaguro or Black Teeth

by ebazaar 8 November 2009 2 Comments

Yellow teeth are a real turn off, but black teeth are a major turn on, for the ancient Japanese people at least. Ohaguro simple means to blacken the teeth.

It is an old Japanese custom that was so popular centuries ago in Japan, and up to the Meiji period at the end of the 19th century. If you’re lucky enough, you could probably catch a glimpse of this black teeth phenomenon in Kyoto nowadays by Geisha ladies. In the olden days, most married Japanese women, some aristocrats, samurai and even those people from the imperial would blacken their teeth as some sort of a symbol of stature and pedigree. This is because in Japan, black color and things were considered especially beautiful.

Ohaguro or black teeth

Ohaguro or black teeth (Credit: Toshiko Sekawa)

The History of Black Teeth Make-up or Ohaguro

ohaguroAccording to archeological researches done on ancient tombs and burial mounds somewhere in Japan, the custom of Ohaguro or blackening the teeth had existed since the prehistorical ages. Dictations of it were even included somewhere in the famous novel, Tales of Genji or Genji Monogatari and Tsutsumi Chuunagon Monogatari that were written in the Heian period and within the ukiyoe art of the Edo period.

The term Ohaguro itself is a word used by the Japanese aristocrats. In Japan, it existed from ancient times, and it was seen among the civilians up until the end of the Meiji period.perhaps you’ll wonder why would the wife of the samurai would dyed their teeth black? Other than being thought as beautiful, other guesses include that they want to maintain dental health and protecting ugly tooth as such. Besides, a woman who has black teeth is obviously a married woman and no man should try to woe her.

Chronological Facts of Ohaguro:-

Heian period

(written in Genji Monogatari and Tsutsumi Chuunagon Monogatari) Ohaguro was practiced by aristocratic men and women who have reached puberty and celebrated their genpuku or mogi, Tairas and other samurai, members of the imperial family who had finished their hakamaza, a ceremony where a child is fitted with a hakama and pages working at large temples. At this period, they even shaved off their eyebrow and painted their eyebrow instead. This tradition continues in the imperial family until the end of Edo period.

Muromachi period

Ohaguro was used among adults and also during political marriages, when a female child of the military commanders had their teeth painted black as a symbol of the coming of age. Even a commander who had been struck in the head and had distorted appearance would wear average womens’ makeup and would blacken their teeth to avoid appearing ugly.

Edo period

Only the men of the imperial family and male aristocrats still practiced Ohaguro, but there are still practices of blackening the teeth among the common married women, unmarried women who are already pass their prime time, which is 18 years old as well as Geisha and prostitutes. For people who live outside main cities, this practice still existed during special celebration such as matsuri, wedding ceremonies and funerals.

Meiji Period

On February 5, 1870, the government banned the practice of ohaguro, and the process gradually became obsolete.

Ohaguro was closely related to Japanese ghost (youkai) stories and urban legend. One famous story was Ohaguro Bettari. Ohaguro bettari beholds the image of a Japanese lady in a bridal kimono with blackened teeth or ohaguro but she also appeared with no other facial features or remarks, meaning no nose or eyes but a blank face with just black teeth shown, eeriely. You can say it is a like some sort of a typical ancient Asian female ghosts. It was also said that Ohaguro bettari haunts temple grounds and shrines during nighttime and distracting men with their seen beauty from behind but scares them away with their upfront features. But I guess, who would stop to have a second look at a female lady in bridal suits walking alone in a quiet and dark temple grounds at night right?!!

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One comment

  1. Jen

    Hello, I am doing research on this topic at the moment. Do you know why it was banned?


    admin Reply:

    Hi Jen. It’s a very interesting subject isn’t it? I have been through few sources since I wanted to know bout it as well, and decided not to reply on the question but write another post on the issue. You can read further on my latest post

    Hope this will help. Thanks for visiting my site! And hope to see you around again~

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