Currently reading : Ohaguro


29 July 2013

Author : reba

The word “ohaguro” was a Japanese aristocratic term for the process of teeth blackening that was popular in Japan in the Meiji period. Practiced once artistocratic men and women reached puberty this adornment fell in and out of popularity but stopped being common once the Edo era was ending in an aristocratic setting. After the Edo period, only men in the imperial family and aristocrats blackened their teeth. Due to the odor and labor required for the process, as well as a feeling among young women that they were aging, ohaguro was done only by married women, unmarried women who were older than eighteen, prostitutes and geisha. There are apparently various reasons for why people engaged in blackening their teeth, some have suggested that it is to do avoiding the contrast of the yellow texture to many peoples teeth against their skin. Another concept exists in the Shinto idea that thinks that the bone was considered to be impure therefore teeth were thought better to be hidden.

print by Kitagawa Utamaro


Extremely labour intensive, the dye used to paint the teeth was meant to have smelt terrible and to hold the colour of the dye the rind of pomegranate was used to seal the colour. The dye was created from a ferric acetate called kanemizu which was made from dissolving iron fillings in vinegar. It was also thought that coating your teeth in this colour would have dental practicalities in helping the prevention of decay. Blackening of the teeth also exists within other cultures but has never been as prominent and as long lasting as it was in Japan. In areas of South East Asia it is still popular between some women although the application and its symbolism is different.


Related articles