What was the “chonmage”? The meaning behind the mysterious, traditional Japanese hairstyle.

Samurai have a reputation for being cool, but there is one thing that everyone feels is out of place: The haircut known as the chonmage.

Even if you wanted to dress as a samurai for cosplay, you wouldn’t want to get a chonmage, would you? I wouldn’t like one either. Why did they have this haircut? The reason, in fact, was a practical one and when you learn about it you may want to get a chonmage too!

What is a chonmage?
The top of the head is shaved off smoothly. The rest of the hair is then tied into a small tail and folded onto the top of the head in a topknot style. This is the chonmage. It requires a lot of care, since the shaved area must be cleanly shaved regularly or it will look messy.

In fact, chonmage was a priority
The Sengoku Period (15th – 16th centuries) was a time when samurai were constantly fighting. They wore armor while moving around which made them sweat and heavy helmets on their heads. The helmets were made of iron and had zero ventilation, so it got stuffy underneath them. The chonmage hairstyle created a small gap under the helmet which helped prevent sweating.

The chonmage, which first and foremost originated out of practicality became common and took root as part of men’s personal grooming.

What would they do if they were bald?
A chonmage is like a half bald head, but if a samurai lost all his hair, he couldn’t make a chonmage. This was embarrassing for a samurai, so some apparently wore fake hair or wigs.

What about the samurai in manga?
A samurai with hair tied up in a knot but unshaven at the front is often the main star. But in reality, samurai who were working properly were required to have a chonmage, so a samurai who was not wearing one was seen as not having a proper job.

These days, the original chonmage style has been rearranged to fit in with modern tastes and fashion.


What is a cool chonmage?
The cool chonmage styles of that time looked like these:

I can’t really tell the difference between them. Can you?

For those of you who wear helmets: motorcycle riders, construction workers, or military personnel, and so on, a chonmage may be a practical hairstyle for you. Would you like to take up the challenge?

I know I wouldn’t!


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