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A 19th-century samurai with a chonmage
A Japanese barbershop in the 19th century

The chonmage (丁髷) is a type of traditional Japanese topknot haircut worn by men. It is most commonly associated with the Edo period (1603–1867) and samurai, and in recent times with sumo wrestlers. It was originally a method of using hair to hold a samurai kabuto helmet steady atop the head in battle, and became a status symbol among Japanese society.

In a traditional Edo-period chonmage, the top of the head is shaved. The remaining hair was oiled and waxed before being tied into a small tail folded onto the top of the head in the characteristic topknot.


The origins of the chonmage can be traced back to the Heian period. During this period, aristocrats wore special cap like crowns as part of their official clothing. To secure the crown in place, the hair would be tied near the back of the head.[citation needed]

Between the 1580s (towards the end of the Warring States period, 1467–1615) and the 1630s (the beginning of the Edo period, 1603–1867), Japanese cultural attitudes to men's hair shifted; where a full head of hair and a beard had been valued as a sign of manliness in the preceding militaristic era, in the ensuing period of peace, this gradually shifted until a beard and an unshaven pate were viewed as barbaric, and resistant of the peace that had resulted from two centuries of civil war.[1]: 217  This change was also enforced during the Japanese invasion of Joseon (1592–1598), where some Japanese commanders forced the submitted Koreans to shave their heads to this hairstyle, as a method of converting their identities to that of Japanese.[1]: 222 

A shaven pate (the sakayaki) became required of the samurai classes by the early Edo period, and by the 1660s, all men, commoner or samurai, were forbidden from wearing beards, with the sakayaki deemed mandatory.[1]: 211 

Under the Meiji Restoration, the practices of the samurai classes, deemed feudal and unsuitable for modern times following the end of sakoku in 1853, resulted in a number of edicts intended to 'modernise' the appearance of upper class Japanese men. With the Dampatsurei Edict of 1871 issued by Emperor Meiji during the early Meiji Era, men of the samurai classes were forced to cut their hair short, effectively abandoning the chonmage.[2]: 149 


A modern sumo wrestler with a "ginkgo"-style chonmage

In modern times, the only remaining wearers of the chonmage are kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers.

The sumo style of the chonmage is slightly different, in that the pate is no longer shaved. However, the hair may be thinned in this region or the crown of the head shaved, called nakazori, to allow the topknot to sit more neatly.

All professional sumo wrestlers wear a chonmage as soon as their hair is long enough to do so. Sumo wrestlers with sekitori status are required on certain occasions, such as during a honbasho, to wear their hair in a more elaborate form of topknot called an ōichō or ginkgo leaf style, where the end of the topknot is splayed out to form a semicircle, resembling a hand fan (sensu). Given the uniqueness of the style in modern Japan, the Sumo Association employs specialist hairdressers called tokoyama to cut and prepare sumo wrestlers' hair.

The chonmage is of such symbolic importance in sumo that snipping it off is the centerpiece of a wrestler's retirement ceremony. Dignitaries and other important people in a wrestler's life are invited to take one snip, with the final one taken by his trainer. For most wrestlers who never reached a sekitori rank, his retirement ceremony will be the only time he wears the more elaborate ōichōmage.

See also[edit]

  • Ji or touji, the traditional Chinese topknot
  • Khokhol
  • Queue, the Qing-dynasty Chinese hairstyle also involving a shaved pate
  • Sikha


  1. ^ a b c Toby, Ron P. (2019). Engaging the Other: 'Japan' and Its Alter-Egos, 1550-1850. Brill's Japanese Studies Library. BRILL. ISBN 978-9004393516.
  2. ^ Scott Pate, Alan (9 May 2017). Kanban: Traditional Shop Signs of Japan. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691176475. In 1871 the Dampatsurei edict forced all samurai to cut off their topknots, a traditional source of identity and pride.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Chonmage at Wikimedia Commons
  • The dictionary definition of chonmage at Wiktionary