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March 28

Ohaguro: The Beauty of Blackened Teeth in Old Japan

In the modern culture of worldwide beauty standards, people are dying to have as white teeth as possible. Like snow. Even better. But what if centuries ago the situation was completely opposite? What if black teeth were the greatest desire, while snow-white ones were rejected by society.

Ohaguro or teeth blacking is a Japanese tradition that made Japanese women color their teeth centuries back.

The Origin

Teeth blacking was first mentioned in literature in the 12th century, but it appeared much earlier. Fairytales and ancient figures of Japanese women which depict the routine of teeth blacking were dated much earlier.

What was the reason?

Back in time, black color was admitted the most beautiful one among Japanese people and, as human beings tend to do, they were trying to have around them as much beloved color as is possible. People dyed their teeth using natural products such as tea or vegetables. Only coming of age people can undergo this procedure, the first one was made as a ceremony while celebrating a person’s 15 birthday. It is also important to mention, that having black teeth were rich people’s privilege.

In Japanese history, the main obtainer of black teeth was geisha. It is still possible to meet some of them having black teeth in modern Kyoto.

At the beginning of the Meiji period, European people reached Japan and were shocked by the view. Some people thought that Japanese women did not care about their mouth hygiene and have naturally rotten black teeth. Others realized that it was an intended procedure but they could not get why. A lot of people thought it was made to prevent women cheat on their husbands as black teeth would make them less attractive.

However, modern historians deny this version, seeing it just as a tradition and human’s thirst for beauty.

In 1870 teeth blacking was banned by the government, leaving this tradition to exist only in theaters, movies, and Kyoto streets.

Ohaguro-worldwide

The Ohaguro tradition was not only popular in Japan but also in China, Laos, Thailand, and other Asian countries. Some people still color their teeth black – for different reasons – and we have to accept it. It is just a color, after all!

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