12 September 2014

"Ohaguro" - fashionably black teeth

Ohaguro is the custom of dyeing one's teeth black. It was most popular in Japan until the Meiji era. Tooth painting was also known and practiced in the southeastern parts of China and Southeast Asia. Dyeing was mainly done by married women, though occasionally men did it as well. It was also beneficial, as it prevented tooth decay, in a similar fashion to modern dental sealants.

In 1873, the empress of Japan made a radical beauty statement, appearing in public with white teeth. For centuries, tooth blackening, known as ohaguro, signified wealth and sexual maturity especially for women in Japanese society, and they would drink an iron-based black dye tempered with cinnamon and other aromatic spices to achieve the lacquered look. 
Text and image via Deformutilation, where there are additional images.

1 comment:

  1. From the Tale of Heike set (at this point) in 1184, written reasonably contemporarily.

    The Death of Tadanori

    Satsuma-no-kami Tadanori, the commander of the western army, clad in a dark-blue hitatare and a suit of armour with black silk lacing and a mounted on a great black horse with a saddle enriched with lacquer of powdered gold, was calmly withdrawing with his following of a hundred horsemen, when Okabe-no-Rokuyata Tadazumi of Musashi espied him and pursued at full gallop, eager to bring down so noble a prize.
    "This must be some great leader!" he cried. "Shameful to turn your back to the foe!" Tadanori turned in the saddle; "We are friends! We are friends!" he replied, as he continued on his way. As he had turned, however, Tadazumi had caught a glimpse of his face and noticed that his teeth were blackened. "There are none of our side who have blackened teeth," he said, "this must be one of the Heike Courtiers." And overtaking him, he ranged up to him to grapple. When his hundred followers saw this, since they were hired retainers drawn from various provinces, they scattered and fled in all directions, leaving their leader to his fate.


    Take from that what you will, but that's what I always think about when I hear about blackened teeth in Japan.


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