The iconic image of a Japanese warrior (or today, sumo wrestler) comes complete with a weird hairstyle in which the front of the head is shaved while the remaining mullet is bound up in a bun or topknot. The origin of this bizarre haircut, called “chonmage,” goes all the way back to the age of the samurai, as it helped to keep a samurai’s helmet on his head. Since the samurai class were wealthy and influential nobility, it didn’t take long for the style to catch on among the Japanese public, who longed to be sword-slinging badasses. Over time, it became traditional for boys turning 13 to shave the front of their heads and adopt the samurai hairstyle to signal that they had become men. Hair neatness was so important in Japan that artists usually employed messy hair as shorthand to represent someone who had been in some way disgraced. The fashion was pretty widespread until globalization forced the Japanese to realize that the rest of the world found their hairstyles absolutely ridiculous — which is a ballsy claim, considering everyone in the West was wearing powdered wigs at the time (but more on that later). A story from 1863 recounts the adventures of two Japanese students who covered their chonmage hairstyles with hats while visiting Holland. When forced to remove the hats at the theater, they caused such an uproar of hilarity that the play had to be stopped, and the story made the national press the next day. It’s just another example of a national pastime ruined by racism. These days, the legacy of chonmage remains almost solely with sumo wrestlers, who are too fat to be bothered with your criticism of their hairstyles.

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