Sanpaku gan (三白眼) or sanpaku (三白) is a Japanese term meaning "three whites". It was introduced into English by George Ohsawa in the mid-1960s. It is generally referred to in English as "sanpaku eyes" and refers to eyes in which either the white space above or below the iris is revealed. The medical condition in which sclera can be seen below the iris is called "lower scleral show" or "inferior scleral show."
According to Chinese/Japanese medical face reading, when the white part of the eye, known as the sclera, is visible beneath the iris, it represents physical imbalance in the body and is claimed to be present in alcoholics, drug addicts, and people who over-consume sugar or grain. Conversely, when the upper sclera is visible it is said to be an indication of mental imbalance in people such as psychotics, murderers, and anyone rageful. In either condition, it is believed that these people attract accidents and violence.
In 1965, Ohsawa, assisted by William Dufty, wrote You Are All Sanpaku, which offers the following perspective on the condition:
For thousands of years, people of the Far East have been looking into each other's eyes for signs of this dreaded condition. Any sign of sanpaku meant that a man's entire system — physical, physiological and spiritual — was out of balance. He had committed sins against the order of the universe and he was therefore sick, unhappy, insane, what the West has come to call "accident prone". The condition of sanpaku is a warning, a sign from nature, that one's life is threatened by an early and tragic end.
According to Ohsawa, this condition could be treated by a macrobiotic diet emphasizing brown rice and soybeans.
Scleral show in Western medicine
In a healthy face, no sclera should be exposed below the irises. A condition where the sclera area is visibly exaggerated is called "scleral show" or "scleral exposure," and may be caused by endocrine imbalance, physical trauma, aging, or cranofacial congenital anomalies. It can also occur as a complication of plastic surgery to the eyelids (blepharoplasty). For example, during removal of fat by laser surgery, too much laser energy ablating too much fat may result in scleral show. In modern medicine, it is not treated by a macrobiotic diet, but by plastic surgery or by redressing the hormonal imbalance.
In popular culture
John Lennon mentioned sanpaku in his song "Aisumasen (I'm Sorry)" from the 1973 album Mind Games. It is also briefly referenced in William Gibson's novel Neuromancer, as well as in Michael Franks' 1979 song "Sanpaku". The Firesign Theatre's comedy sketch "Temporarily Humboldt County" mentions a character named "Sam Paku". Ken Kesey references 'sanpaku' in the short story "Now We Know How Many Holes It Takes To Fill The Albert Hall", which may be found in Demon Box. It is also mentioned in the 1998 film Gia featuring Angelina Jolie rolling her eyes back to give the ‘Sanpaku’ look. (Methuen, 1986, p. 297).
- Evans, T. B., A Dictionary of Japanese Loanwords (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997), p. 150,
- Nyoiti Sakurazawa, William Dufty translator (1965) You Are All Sanpaku, p. 70, Citadel Press ISBN 0-8065-0728-4
- Tom Wolfe (18 August 1963) "Kennedy to Bardot, Too Much Sanpaku", New York Herald Tribune
- Kushi, Michio and Jack, Alex (1987) The Book of Macrobiotics: The Universal Way of Health, Happiness, and Peace, page 295, Oxford University Press
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