Chapter Three. Of Women's Hair

1 THE hair of the younger daughter of the family is very long; and it is a spectacle of no small interest to see it dressed. It is dressed once in every three days; and the operation, which costs four sen, is acknowledged to require one hour. As a matter of fact it requires nearly two. The hairdresser (kamiyui) first sends her maiden apprentice, who cleans the hair, washes it, perfumes it, and combs it with extraordinary combs of at least five different kinds. So thoroughly is the hair cleansed that it remains for three days, or even four, immaculate beyond our Occidental conception of things. In the morning, during the dusting time, it is carefully covered with a handkerchief or a little blue towel; and the curious Japanese wooden pillow, which supports the neck, not the head, renders it possible to sleep at ease without disarranging the marvellous structure. [1]

After the apprentice has finished her part of the work, the hairdresser herself appears, and begins to build the coiffure. For this task she uses, besides the extraordinary variety of combs, fine loops of gilt thread or coloured paper twine, dainty bits of deliciously tinted crape- silk, delicate steel springs, and curious little basket-shaped things over which the hair is moulded into the required forms before being fixed in place.

The kamiyui also brings razors with her; for the Japanese girl is shaved - cheeks, ears, brows, chin, even nose! What is here to shave? Only that peachy floss which is the velvet of the finest human skin, but which Japanese taste removes. There is, however, another use for the razor. All maidens bear the signs of their maidenhood in the form of a little round spot, about an inch in diameter, shaven clean upon the very top of the head. This is only partially concealed by a band of hair brought back from the forehead across it, and fastened to the back hair. The girl-baby's head is totally shaved. When a few years old the little creature's hair is allowed to grow except at the top of the head, where a large tonsure is maintained. But the size of the tonsure diminishes year by year, until it shrinks after childhood to the small spot above described; and this, too, vanishes after marriage, when a still more complicated fashion of wearing the hair is adopted.


Such absolutely straight dark hair as that of most Japanese women might seem, to Occidental ideas at least, ill-suited to the highest possibilities of the art of the coiffeuse. [2] But the skill of the kamiyui has made it tractable to every aesthetic whim. Ringlets, indeed, are unknown, and curling irons. But what wonderful and beautiful shapes the hair of the girl is made to assume: volutes, jets, whirls, eddyings, foliations, each passing into the other blandly as a linking of brush- strokes in the writing of a Chinese master! Far beyond the skill of the Parisian coiffeuse is the art of the kamiyui. From the mythical era [3] of the race, Japanese ingenuity has exhausted itself in the invention and the improvement of pretty devices for the dressing of woman's hair; and probably there have never been so many beautiful fashions of wearing it in any other country as there have been in Japan. These have changed through the centuries; sometimes becoming wondrously intricate of design, sometimes exquisitely simple - as in that gracious custom, recorded for us in so many quaint drawings, of allowing the long black tresses to flow unconfined below the waist. [4] But every mode of which we have any pictorial record had its own striking charm. Indian, Chinese, Malayan, Korean ideas of beauty found their way to the Land of the Gods, and were appropriated and transfigured by the finer native conceptions of comeliness. Buddhism, too, which so profoundly influenced all Japanese art and thought, may possibly have influenced fashions of wearing the hair; for its female divinities appear with the most beautiful coiffures. Notice the hair of a Kwannon or a Benten, and the tresses of the Tennin - those angel-maidens who float in azure upon the ceilings of the great temples.


The particular attractiveness of the modern styles is the way in which the hair is made to serve as an elaborate nimbus for the features, giving delightful relief to whatever of fairness or sweetness the young face may possess. Then behind this charming black aureole is a riddle of graceful loopings and weavings whereof neither the beginning nor the ending can possibly be discerned. Only the kantiyui knows the key to that riddle. And the whole is held in place with curious ornamental combs, and shot through with long fine pins of gold, silver, nacre, transparent tortoise-shell, or lacquered wood, with cunningly carven heads. [5]


Not less than fourteen different ways of dressing the hair are practised by the coiffeuses of Izumo; but doubtless in the capital, and in some of the larger cities of eastern Japan, the art is much more elaborately developed. The hairdressers (kamiyui) go from house to house to exercise their calling, visiting their clients upon fixed days at certain regular hours. The hair of little girls from seven to eight years old is in Matsue dressed usually after the style called O-tabako-bon, unless it be simply 'banged.' In the O-tabako-bon ('honourable smoking-box' style) the hair is cut to the length of about four inches all round except above the forehead, where it is clipped a little shorter; and on the summit of the head it is allowed to grow longer and is gathered up into a peculiarly shaped knot, which justifies the curious name of the coiffure. As soon as the girl becomes old enough to go to a female public day-school, her hair is dressed in the pretty, simple style called katsurashita, or perhaps in the new, ugly, semi-foreign 'bundle- style' called sokuhatsu, which has become the regulation fashion in boarding-schools. For the daughters of the poor, and even for most of those of the middle classes, the public-school period is rather brief; their studies usually cease a few years before they are marriageable, and girls marry very early in Japan. The maiden's first elaborate coiffure is arranged for her when she reaches the age of fourteen or fifteen, at earliest. From twelve to fourteen her hair is dressed in the fashion called Omoyedzuki; then the style is changed to the beautiful coiffure called jorowage. There are various forms of this style, more or less complex. A couple of years later, the jorowage yields in the turn to the shinjocho [6] '('new-butterfly' style), or the shimada, also called takawage. The shimjocho style is common, is worn by women of various ages, and is not considered very genteel. The shimada, exquisitely elaborate, is; but the more respectable the family, the smaller the form of this coiffure; geisha and joro wear a larger and loftier variety of it, which properly answers to the name takawage, or 'high coiffure.' Between eighteen and twenty years of age the maiden again exchanges this style for another termed Tenjin-gaeshi; between twenty and twenty-four years of age she adopts the fashion called mitsuwage, or the 'triple coiffure' of three loops; and a somewhat similar but still more complicated coiffure, called mitsuwakudzushi, is worn by young women of from twenty-five to twenty-eight. Up to that age every change in the fashion of wearing the hair has been in the direction of elaborateness and complexity. But after twenty-eight a Japanese woman is no longer considered young, and there is only one more coiffure for her - the mochiriwage or bobai, tine simple and rather ugly style adopted by old women.

But the girl who marries wears her hair in a fashion quite different from any of the preceding. The most beautiful, the most elaborate, and the most costly of all modes is the bride's coiffure, called hanayome; a word literally signifying 'flower-wife.' The structure is dainty as its name, and must be seen to be artistically appreciated. Afterwards the wife wears her hair in the styles called kumesa or maruwage, another name for which is katsuyama. The kumesa style is not genteel, and is the coiffure of the poor; the maruwage or katsuyama is refined. In former times the samurai women wore their hair in two particular styles: the maiden's coiffure was ichogaeshi, and that of the married folk katahajishi. It is still possible to see in Matsue a few katahajishi coiffures.


The family kamiyui, O-Koto-San, the most skilful of her craft in Izumo, is a little woman of about thirty, still quite attractive. About her neck there are three soft pretty lines, forming what connoisseurs of beauty term 'the necklace of Venus.' This is a rare charm; but it once nearly proved the ruin of Koto. The story is a curious one.

Koto had a rival at the beginning of her professional career - a woman of considerable skill as a coiffeuse, but of malignant disposition, named Jin. Jin gradually lost all her respectable custom, and little Koto became the fashionable hairdresser. But her old rival, filled with jealous hate, invented a wicked story about Koto, and the story found root in the rich soil of old Izumo superstition, and grew fantastically. The idea of it had been suggested to Jin's cunning mind by those three soft lines about Koto's neck. She declared that Koto had a NUKE-KUBI.

What is a nuke-kubi? 'Kubi' signifies either the neck or head. 'Nukeru' means to creep, to skulk, to prowl, to slip away stealthily. To have a nuke-kubi is to have a head that detaches itself from the body, and prowls about at night - by itself.

Koto has been twice married, and her second match was a happy one. But her first husband caused her much trouble, and ran away from her at last, in company with some worthless woman. Nothing was ever heard of him afterward - so that Jin thought it quite safe to invent a nightmare-story to account for his disappearance. She said that he abandoned Koto because, on awaking one night, he saw his young wife's head rise from the pillow, and her neck lengthen like a great white serpent, while the rest of her body remained motionless. He saw the head, supported by the ever-lengthening neck, enter the farther apartment and drink all the oil in the lamps, and then return to the pillow slowly - the neck simultaneously contracting. 'Then he rose up and fled away from the house in great fear,' said Jin.

As one story begets another, all sorts of queer rumours soon began to circulate about poor Koto. There was a tale that some police-officer, late at night, saw a woman's head without a body, nibbling fruit from a tree overhanging some garden-wall; and that, knowing it to be a nuke- kubi, he struck it with the flat of his sword. It shrank away as swiftly as a bat flies, but not before he had been able to recognize the face of the kamiyui. 'Oh! it is quite true!' declared Jin, the morning after the alleged occurrence; 'and if you don't believe it, send word to Koto that you want to see her. She can't go out: her face is all swelled up.' Now the last statement was fact - for Koto had a very severe toothache at that time - and the fact helped the falsehood. And the story found its way to the local newspaper, which published it - only as a strange example of popular credulity; and Jin said, 'Am I a teller of the truth? See, the paper has printed it!'

Wherefore crowds of curious people gathered before Koto's little house, and made her life such a burden to her that her husband had to watch her constantly to keep her from killing herself. Fortunately she had good friends in the family of the Governor, where she had been employed for years as coiffeuse; and the Governor, hearing of the wickedness, wrote a public denunciation of it, and set his name to it, and printed it. Now the people of Matsue reverenced their old samurai Governor as if he were a god, and believed his least word; and seeing what he had written, they became ashamed, and also denounced the lie and the liar; and the little hairdresser soon became more prosperous than before through popular sympathy.

Some of the most extraordinary beliefs of old days are kept alive in Izumo and elsewhere by what are called in America travelling side-shows'; and the inexperienced foreigner could never imagine the possibilities of a Japanese side-show. On certain great holidays the showmen make their appearance, put up their ephemeral theatres of rush-matting and bamboos in some temple court, surfeit expectation by the most incredible surprises, and then vanish as suddenly as they came. The Skeleton of a Devil, the Claws of a Goblin, and 'a Rat as large as a sheep,' were some of the least extraordinary displays which I saw. The Goblin's Claws were remarkably fine shark's teeth; the Devil's Skeleton had belonged to an orang-outang - all except the horns ingeniously attached to the skull; and the wondrous Rat I discovered to be a tame kangaroo. What I could not fully understand was the exhibition of a nuke-kubi, in which a young woman stretched her neck, apparently, to a length of about two feet, making ghastly faces during the performance.


There are also some strange old superstitions about women's hair.

The myth of Medusa has many a counterpart in Japanese folk-lore: the subject of such tales being always some wondrously beautiful girl, whose hair turns to snakes only at night; and who is discovered at last to be either a dragon or a dragon's daughter. But in ancient times it was believed that the hair of any young woman might, under certain trying circumstances, change into serpents. For instance: under the influence of long-repressed jealousy.

There were many men of wealth who, in the days of Old Japan, kept their concubines (mekake or aisho) under the same roof with their legitimate wives (okusama). And it is told that, although the severest patriarchal discipline might compel the mekake and the okusama to live together in perfect seeming harmony by day, their secret hate would reveal itself by night in the transformation of their hair. The long black tresses of each would uncoil and hiss and strive to devour those of the other - and even the mirrors of the sleepers would dash themselves together - for, saith an ancient proverb, kagami onna-no tamashii - 'a Mirror is the Soul of a Woman.' [7] And there is a famous tradition of one Kato Sayemon Shigenji, who beheld in the night the hair of his wife and the hair of his concubine, changed into vipers, writhing together and hissing and biting. Then Kato Sayemon grieved much for that secret bitterness of hatred which thus existed through his fault; and he shaved his head and became a priest in the great Buddhist monastery of Koya-San, where he dwelt until the day of his death under the name of Karukaya.


The hair of dead women is arranged in the manner called tabanegami, somewhat resembling the shimada extremely simplified, and without ornaments of any kind. The name tabanegami signifies hair tied into a bunch, like a sheaf of rice. This style must also be worn by women during the period of mourning.

Ghosts, nevertheless, are represented with hair loose and long, falling weirdly over the face. And no doubt because of the melancholy suggestiveness of its drooping branches, the willow is believed to be the favourite tree of ghosts. Thereunder, 'tis said, they mourn in the night, mingling their shadowy hair with the long dishevelled tresses of the tree.

Tradition says that Okyo Maruyama was the first Japanese artist who drew a ghost. The Shogun, having invited him to his palace, said: 'Make a picture of a ghost for me.' Okyo promised to do so; but he was puzzled how to execute the order satisfactorily. A few days later, hearing that one of his aunts was very ill, he visited her. She was so emaciated that she looked like one already long dead. As he watched by her bedside, a ghastly inspiration came to him: he drew the fleshless face and long dishevelled hair, and created from that hasty sketch a ghost that surpassed all the Shogun's expectations. Afterwards Okyo became very famous as a painter of ghosts.

Japanese ghosts are always represented as diaphanous, and preternaturally tall - only the upper part of the figure being distinctly outlined, and the lower part fading utterly away. As the Japanese say, 'a ghost has no feet': its appearance is like an exhalation, which becomes visible only at a certain distance above the ground; and it wavers arid lengthens and undulates in the conceptions of artists, like a vapour moved by wind. Occasionally phantom women figure in picture.- books in the likeness of living women; but these are riot true ghosts. They are fox-women or other goblins; and their supernatural character is suggested by a peculiar expression of the eyes arid a certain impossible elfish grace.

Little children in Japan, like little children in all countries keenly enjoy the pleasure of fear; and they have many games in which such pleasure forms the chief attraction. Among these is 0-bake-goto, or Ghost-play. Some nurse-girl or elder sister loosens her hair in front, so as to let it fall over her face, and pursues the little folk with moans and weird gestures, miming all the attitudes of the ghosts of the picture-books.


As the hair of the Japanese woman is her richest ornament, it is of all her possessions that which she would most suffer to lose; and in other days the man too manly to kill an erring wife deemed it vengeance enough to turn her away with all her hair shorn off. Only the greatest faith or the deepest love can prompt a woman to the voluntary sacrifice of her entire chevelure, though partial sacrifices, offerings of one or two long thick cuttings, may be seen suspended before many an Izumo shrine.

What faith can do in the way of such sacrifice, he best knows who has seen the great cables, woven of women's hair, that hang in the vast Hongwanji temple at Kyoto. And love is stronger than faith, though much less demonstrative. According to ancient custom a wife bereaved sacrifices a portion of her hair to be placed in the coffin of her husband, and buried with him. The quantity is not fixed: in the majority of cases it is very small, so that the appearance of the coiffure is thereby nowise affected. But she who resolves to remain for ever loyal to the memory of the lost yields up all. With her own hand she cuts off her hair, and lays the whole glossy sacrifice - emblem of her youth and beauty - upon the knees of the dead.

It is never suffered to grow again.