Why did Japanese women paint their teeth black? Second attempt

“in order to magnify the brightness of their snow-like complexions”

Geishas, Berenice Geoffroy-Schneiter, pg 11



  1. Angie said,

    July 6, 2008 at 7:41 pm

    Thank you for that thoughtful insight…I can see the logic of that. Modesty might well be part of it. Here is what I’ve found so far in my research (as always, research on the web is iffy and inconclusive): a name for the practice:
    Ohaguro. It seems to have really died out at about the time Europeans began to seriously influence Japanese culture, the Meiji period, after Japan was opened (more or less by force, it seems) at the behest of the United States. If you discover anything more, I’d love to know about it….to me there seems to be a distant connection to foot-binding, though that practice in China seems to have persisted into the 20th century. Thank you again!

  2. alaina said,

    August 10, 2008 at 3:47 am

    when did Japanese start bowing

  3. alexcase said,

    August 13, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    Hi Alaina

    Have tried to answer your question in a later post. Hope that helps

  4. bob jarvis said,

    December 8, 2008 at 10:09 pm

    some-one told me …painting the teeth black is a myth concerning the discovery of the tooth-brush.

  5. beowulf said,

    December 10, 2008 at 6:01 am

    It is not a myth and dates back to the 8th century in Japan. I can not say exactly why they did it, but it was only done in wealthy families. Also in the beginning (8th century Japan) children as young as 10 blackened their teeth.

    Later on it changed to only women who got married. It was like a way of saying that the woman was married (like a wedding ring). These women also shaved their eyebrows.

    In 1870 people were ordered to stop blackening their teeth by order of the Emperor. Obviously it did not stop immediately and was gradually phased out in rural areas by the early 20th century.

    My Japanese is not so good and I would have to spend a lot more time on this page, but here is the Japanese Wikipedia link for those of you who can read Japanese: http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%81%8A%E6%AD%AF%E9%BB%92

  6. Jean McArthur said,

    January 26, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    I’m certainly no expert, but some of what I’ve read said that blackening the teeth was a sign to others that the woman in question was married and/or engaged to be wed in the very near future. Wedding rings being a Western/European definition of a woman’s marital status.

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