Ohaguro (Tooth black) (お歯黒)

Ohaguro (tooth blackening) is the cosmetic treatment of dyeing teeth black used chiefly by married women (or occasionally men) in Japan, southeast China or Southeast Asia, before the Meiji period.


This was assumed to exist from ancient Japan, and could be seen among the common people until the late Meiji period. It was considered that jet-black with a gloss like Japanese lacquer was beautiful.


"Ogaguro" (tooth black) is a term used by the aristocracy in Japan. The kanji characters of Ohaguro (tooth black) are sometimes written as "iron paste (鉄漿)," and thus is pronounced as Kane. In the Imperial Palace, it is called fushimizu (gallnut water). Among the common people, it was also called something like Kanetsuke (Iron Paste attachment), Tsukegane (attached Iron Paste), or Hagurome (Tooth Black).


The remains of the tooth black were discovered among human bones and clay figures buried in ancient burial mounds.

In "Sengaikyo" (oldest topography of China), it was written that there is Kokushi-koku (literally, "black-teeth country"); in Gishi-wajin-den (the first written record of Japan's commerce) of the history book "Sangokushi" (Three Kingdoms of Saga), it was written as Wakoku Toho (eastern country, Japan).
(In the explanatory note of the chapter Suetsumuhana in "The Tale of Genji," it was written that, Sengaikyo says there is a black-teeth country in which the women practice the custom of dyeing their teeth black.)

The method that Jianzhen used in 753 still remains now in Shoso-in House of Todai-ji Temple.

"The Tale of Genji" and "Tsutsumi-Chunagon Monogatari" (Ten shorter stories collection after later Heian period) also mentioned tooth blackening. In the late Heian period, not only did girls who had shown secondary sex characteristics or who had attended coming-of-age ceremony, but male nobles, Samurai in the Taira clan, and children in a festival procession in big temples or shrines also practiced tooth blackening. Especially for the royal families and high-ranked aristocracy, the boys and girls were dressed up in Hakamagi (ceremony fitting child with a hakama - Japanese skirt) with make-up, blackened teeth and Hikimayu (painted eyebrows), this lasted until the end of Tokugawa Shogunate period.

During the Muromachi period, this custom was even diffused among adults amongst the common people, moreover, during the Sengoku period (period of Warring States) of Japan, it was done as a symbol of being an adult for bushos' (Japanese military commanders) daughters at the age around 8 to 10, at that time, the wife of a guardian relative was called kaneoya (godmother of kanetsuke). Moreover, it is said that some of the commanders (mainly the Taira family series including the Odawara-Hojo family) during the Sengoku period (period of warring states) had make up as intense as a woman to the extent of even blackening their teeth when they proceeded to the battlefield in order that they did not look bad even if they were struck in the head. These faces were drawn on Onnamen (women's mask), Shonenmen (boy's mask), Seinenmen (man's mask) in Noh plays.

Since the Edo period, it was almost abolished among men other than the royalty and the aristocrats, moreover, young women refrained from this practice because it was stinky, time-consuming, and made them feel aged, therefore it became a form of make-up exclusively used by married women, single women above 18 or 20, prostitutes or geishas. Farmers blacken their teeth only on special occasions such as festivals, weddings, funerals and so on (this is also depicted in the children's tale called "Gon the Fox").

On February 5, 1870, government put a ban on tooth black among the royalty and aristocrats; consequently, this practice also faded gradually among the common people (after the Meiji period, it was once popular among farm villages), and in the Taisho period, it almost completely disappeared.

Nowadays, it can only be seen in dramas, fleshpots, certain festivals, some Jidaigeki-eiga (period movies) until the 1960s (by some movie companies such as Daiei).

Moreover, there were often sets of tooth black with penciled eyebrows.

The following people engaged in the practice of Ohaguro.

Heian period
Royalty and Heian aristocrats (in Genpuku and Mogi (coming-of-age ceremony) (for both boys and girls after putting on the hakama (Japanese skirt for formal wear), regardless of gender and whether he/she is married or not).
Mainly warlords of the Taira family (it was uncommon for the Minamoto clan)
Ritual children in big Buddhist temples
The Sengoku period (period of warring states) (Japan)
Young princess who entered into, or were likely to enter into, a marriage of convenience
Some commanders during the Sengoku period (both eyebrows were shaved off and tenjo-mayu (false eyebrows - were drawn.)
Edo period
All married women in the city (With penciled eyebrows, however, those from samurai families penciled their eyebrows after giving birth.)
Single women of 18 to 20 years old or more (Their eyebrows may either be penciled or not.)
Prostitute (Edo, Kamigata, matured, and without penciled eyebrows)
Geisha (only Kamigata, matured, without penciled eyebrows/ not adopted in Edo).
Dramas, demimonde, certain festivals, etc.


When the kanji characters "Iron Paste" are pronounced as 'Kane,' it refers to the liquid for dyeing.

The main component is a tea-brown extremely stinky solution of dissolved iron in acetic acid (vinegar) that is called "Kanemizu" (Iron Paste Water), to this, the so-called fushiko or gallnut powder is added and mixed, then a hydrophobic solution is the result. The main component, ferrous acetate combines with tannic acid and changes to black. It is considered to have practicable effects such as the prevention of tooth decay by forming a film on the teeth's surface, and strengthening of teeth against erosion by infiltrating into the enamel. It was necessary to dye once every day or every several days.

Moreover, as a handy treatment, some teeth were blackened by painting with a powder mixture of fushiko (gallnut powder), iron sulfate, and oyster shell, however, this method was not so popular.

For dramas, pine resin mixed with ink is used, nowadays, tooth wax (wax mixed with ink) is used.

Places where tooth black can be seen nowadays
These all become teeth black for dramas.

Kabuki (Roles of married women, aristocrats of Heian era, prostitute, or geisha)
Kabuki dance
Middle-aged woman (Tokiwazu - a Japanese-type puppet play)
Fumiuri (letter seller) (Kiyomoto - a type of Japanese-type puppet play)
karyu-kai (world of the Geisha)
Tayu (top ranked Geisha) (Shimabara, Kyoto City)
Geigi and maiko (in Kyoto City, when a maiko is 1 to 4 weeks before she becomes a geisha)
Saiodai (the heroine of Aoi-matsuri Festival, Kyoto City) (Depending on the age, there are also cases where tooth blackening is not practiced.)
Hikiyama-kabuki (Kabuki drama on a Hikiyama festival float) (Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri (Nagahama Parade Float Festival), Nagahama City)
Hikiyama-kabuki (Kabuki drama on a Hikiyama festival float) (Maibara Festival, Maibara City)
Amateur kabuki in various places in Japan (However, tooth black may not be used.)
Superstition, urban legend, etc. There is a legend saying that, although the specter Ittan-momen (a ghostly phenomenon formed as one-tenth hectare of cotton) cannot be cut, but it can be cut by teeth once blackened before. Therefore, in a region where people thought Ittan-momen appeared, even men there had their teeth blackened.

In the Meiji period, in certain regions, there were well-spread rumors that 'Virgin's lifeblood is painted on electric wires.'
Thus, women of marriageable age in those regions often blackened their teeth, penciled their eyebrows and dressed in plain clothes as married women so that their blood would not be taken.

In Norio YAMADA's "Tohoku Kaidan no Tabi" (Trip to scary stories in Tohoku Region), a rumor of the specter Ohaguro-bettari in Fukui Prefecture was described.

China, Southeast Asia, etc. Even nowadays, regular tooth blackening can be seen in the following regions of minority races. Chiefly, since it is limited to elderly women, it is rare for a young woman to have her teeth blackened even if she is married. Black artificial teeth are made for these regions. Refer also to cultural region of evergreen broadleaf forest.

Yunnan (People's Republic of China)
Hmong ethnic group
Lahu ethnic group
Yao (Dao) ethnic group
Vietnam (Hanoi, and the region adjacent to China)
Dao Tien ethnic group
Lu ethnic group
Black Dao ethnic group
Nung ethnic group
Laos (nowadays, it is often not used)
Hani ethnic group
Katu (Co Tu) ethnic group
Phounoy ethnic group
Kingdom of Thailand (It is related to the custom of biting betel plant and betel palm together.)
Aka (Akha) ethnic group
Lisu ethnic group

[Original Japanese]