Why Did the Samurai Wear Their Hair In a “Chonmage”?

  • The chonmage is a traditional Japanese hairstyle which is usually linked to samurai and the Edo period. Traditionally, the hairstyle of chonmage features a shaved pate, and the rest of the hair is tied up in a bun. It is said that the shaven pate has an added benefit to hide various forms of male pattern baldness.


    The chonmage hairstyle originated in the Nara period. In the past, this hairstyle was originally intended to hold the samurai helmet (kabuto) in its place during battles. The shaved pate allows the helmet to fit tightly onto the head. With less hair, the samurai would also not suffer from too much heat on the head when wearing the helmet.

    Since the samurai were considered to have high status in society, the chonmage then became a status symbol. By the Edo period, the chonmage hairstyle was considered to be the norm and decent. The neatness of hair was treated to be so important that artists would usually depict people who have been disgraced to have messy hairstyles.

    The chonmage hairstyle did not seem to be well-accepted by European observers. In 1863, there was an instance in which two students wore hats to hide their chonmage to avoid being ridiculed while they were in Holland. However, they had to remove their hats at a theater as they blocked the view of the audience behind them. This resulted in the theater being filled with laughter and the story appeared in a newspaper headline the next day.

    Modern Times

    By the 19th century, the chonmage became obsolete due to the influence of foreign countries. In recent times, the chonmage can be seen sported by sumo wrestlers, but with a slight variation. Sumo wrestlers sport chonmage of which the pates are not shaven. Sumo wrestlers who achieved the rank of sekitori would sometimes sport an oicho style of chonmage which features a topknot that is splayed out like a fan. Special hairstylists known as tokoyama would prepare the hairstyle of sumo wrestlers.

    Are you a fan of the chonmage hairstyle? The chonmage hairstyle is the precursor to a modern version of hairstyle known as the samurai bun (or “man bun”). The samurai bun can really look good on certain men!

    Related Articles:
    A Trip to the Past: Visit a Samurai Town
    A Day in the Life of a Sumo Wrestler

    1. geobrien says:

      I believe the part where the author claims the chonmage hair style was obsolete by the 19th century is incorrect. The chonmage hair style during the 19th century (1800-1899) was still Very popular.

    2. Henk-Jan Vrielink says:

      I like the chonmage including the shaved plate and will wear my hair like that one day as soon as it is long enough. Also because I could not care less what others think of it.

      1. Truth been told says:

        If you really couldn’t care less what others think of it, you wouldn’t have mentioned it.

    3. James says:

      I believe the comment regarding Chonmage being used to secure the Samurai helmets
      (Kabuto) is also inaccurate . The Samurai when in armour would wear thier hair loose and long usually under a Hachimaki or head cloth . This facilitated a little more padding as Kabuto liners or Ukibari are not padded , and also help with sweat absorption .
      I can see how the shaved page would be beneficial for heat loss though .

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