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Maiko Katsune wearing oshiroi in the eri-ashi style

Oshiroi (白粉) is the powder used for skin whitening, mostly by kabuki actors and geisha, along with their maiko apprentices."白粉" literally means "white powder", while the pronunciation oshiroi means "white" (shiroi) with the honorific prefix o-.

Oshiroi is traditionally applied over a base of wax. A special wax called ishineri (石練) is used on the eyebrows first, to flatten them.[1] Then, bintsuke (facial wax) is applied to the entirety of the face (and later the neck and back, if wearing susohiki-style kimono.)

The oshiroi is then mixed with water and applied with a wide, flat brush over the neck, face and back, and is painted straight over the eyebrows.

Both geisha and maiko will paint the back of their neck in a pattern called eri-ashi (襟足) (literally 'neck stripes', but specifically meaning a two-stripe pattern), and for formal occasions, will paint three stripes in, called sanbon-ashi (三本足) ('three pointed stripes'). Eri-ashi can be painted freehand with a smaller brush, but sanbon-ashi are painted using a stencil for neatness.[2]

Application of oshiroi varies by occasion and use. Stage makeup for Kabuki actors tends to be applied thickly, in order for the audience to see the actor's face, and so they will not blend out their oshiroi in order to keep it bright and visible from the stage. A Kabuki actor doing a quick change between characters may simply paint the oshiroi straight over their previous makeup, as it is opaque enough that the actor's previous makeup will not be visible.[note 1]

In contrast, a maiko will use a sponge to blend out her oshiroi until it is a gentle off-white colour, and will use pink rouge called tonoko to contour and colour the rest of her face. A junior maiko will use a lot of pink, whereas a senior maiko uses very little, and a senior geisha almost none at all.

In the past, the type of oshiroi used contained lead, and would eventually give the wearer lead poisoning.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Clip of Kabuki actor Kataoka Ainosuke doing quick-change makeup in the middle of a Kabuki performance. Starts at 18.20.[3]


  1. ^ Booker, Amaya. "Makeup". geishaofjapan. Geisha of Japan. Retrieved 28 May 2019.
  2. ^ Ishihara, Tetsuo (2004). Nihongami no Sekai: Maiko no kamigata (The World of Traditional Japanese Hairstyles/Hairstyles of The Maiko) (1st ed.). Kyoto-shi, Japan: The Tetsuo Ishihara Museum of Traditional Japanese Hairstyles. pp. 66–70. ISBN 4990218604.
  3. ^ "Before a Kabuki Tour Begins" (Video). Youtube. NHK World Japan. Retrieved 28 May 2019.
  4. ^ Dalby, Liza (2000). Geisha (3rd ed.). London: Vintage Random House. p. 140. ISBN 0 09 928638 6.