March 28

Ohaguro: Why Did the Japanese Dye Their Teeth Black?

In the modern tradition of having white teeth, it is hard to imagine that many years back there black teeth were in trend. Ohaguro or teeth blacking was a traditional procedure in ancient Japan, where it was an indicator of high social status.

Along with Japan, this tradition also existed in other Asian countries such as China, Thailand, and also in India. People dye their teeth black using the mixture consisted of iron, tea, vegetables, rice, and wine. Of course, their natural ingredients cannot remain on people’s teeth forever so people made blacking a regular procedure and repeated it every 3-5 days.

According to archeologists, this tradition appeared in the 9th century. The fashion rules of that time were to have snow-white face skin and black teeth. This procedure was especially popular among rich young women who had come of age to get married.

Also, historians claim that blacking teeth was also the way to hide bad yellow teeth. As people smile yellow teeth looked disgusting while black teeth allowed people to smile widely and proud. Also, the natural mixture made teeth stronger and healthier.

As was already mentioned teeth blacking was popular among rich people, but also it was a beloved procedure by military people. Men who got injures and scars in war usually made kind of “woman” make-up: white skin and black teeth to cover their imperfections.

At the Edo, period blacking became less popular and was used mostly by women. Young women preparing to get married, married women (both of aristocracy circles), prostitutes, and geisha underwent the procedure.

In 1870 Ohaguro was banned by the government. So the tradition disappeared for some time. Later it was permitted again, the tradition was already dead. Now, black teeth can only be seen in movies, theater, on festivals, and… on geisha.

Nowadays, people still remember the tradition and often post photos of them having black teeth because of eating squid ink spaghetti.

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