was the practice of removing the natural eyebrows and painting smudge-like eyebrows on the forehead in pre-modern Japan, particularly in the
Heian period The is the last division of classical Japanese history, running from 794 to 1185. It followed the Nara period, beginning when the 50th emperor, Emperor Kanmu, moved the capital of Japan to Heian-kyō (modern Kyoto Kyoto (; Japanese langu ...
(794–1185). means "pull" and means "eyebrows". Aristocratic women used to pluck or shave their eyebrows and paint new ones using a powdered ink called , which was made of soot from sesame or
rapeseed Rapeseed (''Brassica napus ''subsp.'' napus''), also known as rape, or oilseed rape, is a bright-yellow flowering member of the family Brassicaceae (mustard or cabbage family), cultivated mainly for its oil-rich seed, which naturally contains a ...

oils.Cosmetics in the Heian period. Archived copy of defunct webpage; accessed in April 2011


first appeared in the eighth century, when the Japanese court adopted Chinese customs and styles.''Kokushi Daijiten''. Yoshikawa, 1985. Japanese noblewomen started painting their faces with a white powder called . One putative reason for was that removing the natural eyebrows made it easier to put on the . At this time, eyebrows were painted in arc shapes, as in China. Women also started painting their teeth black, known as . Japanese culture began to flourish in its own right during the
Heian period The is the last division of classical Japanese history, running from 794 to 1185. It followed the Nara period, beginning when the 50th emperor, Emperor Kanmu, moved the capital of Japan to Heian-kyō (modern Kyoto Kyoto (; Japanese langu ...
(794-1185 CE), as Japanese arts and culture flourished in their own right at the
Imperial Court in Kyoto The Imperial Court in Kyoto was the nominal ruling government of Japan from 794 AD until the Meiji period (1868–1912), after which the court was moved from Kyoto (formerly Heian-kyō) to Tokyo (formerly Edo) and integrated into the Meiji gover ...
. With the turn away from Chinese culture, Japanese courtiers began to wear elaborate clothing - the for women and the for men - in color combinations symbolising the change of the seasons and stylised views of nature. Women also began to paint their faces more thickly, and began painting their eyebrows as ovals or ovoid smudges on their foreheads, above the placement of their natural eyebrows. One theorised reason behind the move towards highly-stylised eyebrows is that as hairstyles on women transitioned into long hair left to hang down naturally on each side of the face, the forehead became too prominent, and that painting the eyebrows as ovals halfway up the forehead redressed this balance. The practice of continued even into the latter portion of the Heian period; men in particular painted their faces white, blackened their teeth and redrew their eyebrows in its later years. As a fashion for women, lasted for a number of centuries afterwards. In drama, which started in the 14th century, the masks for the roles of young women typically have eyebrows in the style. Beginning in the
Edo period The or is the period between 1603 and 1867 in the history of Japan, history of Japan, when Japan was under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate and the country's 300 regional ''daimyo''. Emerging from the chaos of the Sengoku period, the Edo perio ...
(1603-1867), both and transitioned into a practice seen only on married women.''Cyclopedia of Japanese History'' / ''Nihonshi Daijiten''. Heibonsha, 1993. In the latter half of the 19th century, the Japanese government ended its policy of isolationism and started to adopt Western culture. Eyebrows painted on the forehead and blackened teeth were considered no longer appropriate for modern society, and in 1870 and were banned. In the modern day, and are typically only seen in historical drama pieces such as and
kabuki is a classical form of Japan Japan ( ja, 日本, or , and formally , ''Nihonkoku'') is an island country in East Asia. It is situated in the northwest Pacific Ocean, and is bordered on the west by the Sea of Japan, while extending ...

, and occasionally in local festivals. Apprentice geisha in some quarters of Japan - typically in
Kyoto Kyoto (; Japanese language, Japanese: , ''Kyōto'' ), officially , is the capital city of Kyoto Prefecture in Japan. Located in the Kansai region on the island of Honshu, Kyoto forms a part of the Keihanshin, Keihanshin metropolitan area along wi ...

- may also practice before graduating into
geisha {{Culture of Japan, Traditions, Geisha {{nihongo, Geisha, 芸者 ({{IPAc-en, ˈ, ɡ, eɪ, ʃ, ə; {{IPA-ja, ɡeːɕa, lang), also known as {{nihongo, , 芸子, geiko (in Kyoto and Kanazawa) or {{nihongo, , 芸妓, geigi, are a class of female J ...


In literature

is mentioned in both of the great literary classics of the Heian period, '' The Tale of Genji'' and '' The Pillow Book''. The passage from ''The Tale of Genji'', near the end of the sixth chapter, concerns a girl aged about ten who is living in the palace of the Emperor Nijo. The original Japanese,
romanization Romanization or romanisation, in linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It is called a scientific study because it entails a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise analysis of all aspects of langu ...
, and Edward Seidensticker's translation are as follows.
Because of her grandmother's conservative preferences, her teeth had not yet been blackened or her eyebrows plucked. Genji had put one of the women to blackening her eyebrows, which drew fresh, graceful arcs.Murasaki Shikibu, ''The Tale of Genji''. Translation by Edward Seidensticker. Knopf, 1978.
The translation by
Royall Tyler Royall Tyler (June 18, 1757 – August 26, 1826) was an American jurist A jurist is a person with expert knowledge of law; someone who analyses and comments on law. This person is usually a specialist legal scholar, mostly (but not alwa ...
In deference to her grandmother's old-fashioned manners her teeth had not yet received any blacking, but he had had her made up, and the sharp line of her eyebrows was very attractive.Murasaki Shikibu, ''The Tale of Genji''. Translation by Royall Tyler. Penguin, 2002.
In Meredith McKinney's translation of the ''Pillow Book'', section 80 reads:
Things that create the appearance of deep emotion – The sound of your voice when you're constantly blowing your runny nose as you talk. Plucking your eyebrows.Sei Shonagon, ''The Pillow Book''. Translation by Meredith McKinney. Penguin, 2007.

In cinema

can be seen in the films , , and . In the first two films, can be seen on actress Machiko Kyō: in , which is set in the Heian period, she plays a samurai's wife; in , also known as , set in the Sengoku (civil war) period of 1493–1573, she plays the ghost of a noblewoman. In , which is based on
King Lear ''King Lear'' is a Shakespearean tragedy, tragedy written by William Shakespeare. It is based on the mythological Leir of Britain. King Lear, in preparation for his old age, divides his power and land between two of his daughters. He becomes ...

King Lear
, can be seen on Mieko Harada as Lady Kaede.



{{Cosmetics Cultural history of Japan Japanese fashion Chinese traditions