The Emperor and nobles of his court are also in the habit of blackening their teeth; but the custom is gradually dying out in their case. It is said to have originated with one Hanazono Arishito, who held the high rank of Sa-Daijin, or “minister of the left,” at the commencement of the twelfth century, in the reign of the Emperor Toba. Being a, man of refined and sensual tastes, this minister plucked out his eyebrows, shaved his beard, blackened his teeth, powdered his face white, and rouged his lips in order to render himself as like a woman as possible. In the middle of the twelfth century, the nobles of the court, who went to the wars, all blackened their teeth; and from this time forth the practice became a fashion of the court. The followers of the chiefs of the Hojo dynasty also blackened their teeth, as an emblem of their fidelity; and this was called the Odawara fashion, after the castle town of the family. Thus a custom, which had its origin in a love of sensuality and pleasure, became mistaken for the sign of a good and faithful spirit.
The fashion of blackening the teeth entails no little trouble upon its followers, for the colour must be renewed every day, or at least every other day. Strange and repelling as the custom appears at first, the eye soon learns to look without aversion upon a well-blacked and polished set of teeth; but when the colour begins to wear away, and turns to a dullish grey, streaked with black, the mouth certainly becomes most hideous. Although no one who reads this is likely to put a recipe for blackening the teeth to a practical test, I append one furnished to me by a fashionable chemist and druggist in Yedo:—
“Take three pints of water, and, having warmed it, add half a teacupful of wine. Put into this mixture a quantity of red-hot iron; allow it to stand for five or six days, when there will be a scum on the top of the mixture, which should then be poured into a small teacup and placed near a fire. When it is warm, powdered gallnuts and iron filings should be added to it, and the whole should be warmed again. The liquid is then painted on to the teeth by means of a soft feather brush, with more powdered gallnuts and iron, and, after several applications, the desired colour will be obtained.”
The process is said to be a preservative of the teeth, and I have known men who were habitual sufferers from toothache to prefer the martyrdom of ugliness to that of pain, and apply the black colouring when the paroxysms were severe. One man told me that he experienced immediate relief by the application, and that so long as he blackened his teeth he was quite free from pain.
(FROM THE “SHO-REI HIKKI.”)