The History and Significance of Eboshi: A Noble's Headgear

Eboshi image

In the world of traditional Japanese attire, the eboshi holds a special place as a distinctive headgear worn by adult men during formal occasions.

Its origins can be traced back to the Heian period, and it has remained an integral part of ceremonial dress up until modern times.

This article delves into the history, types, and cultural significance of the eboshi, shedding light on its evolution and role in Japanese society.

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Origins and Evolution

The early eboshi was crafted from delicate silk, but it transitioned into a black lacquered paper construction over time.

The common people, however, made use of a version woven from hemp thread.

Different types of eboshi existed, each associated with specific attire and the social status of the wearer.

The eboshi was more commonly worn, especially during the Heian and Kamakura periods.

Some scholars believe that similar headgear in China may have influenced the eboshi's design.

An intriguing artifact that suggests the antiquity of the eboshi is a stone statue found in the Kōsan-ji Temple in Gyeongju, South Korea.

Dating back to the early 7th century, this statue depicts a figure wearing an eboshi.

Although traditionally meant for men, there are instances in which women, such as geisha, wore the eboshi as well.

From the Heian period onwards, the eboshi gradually became more accessible to the general population, and not wearing one during the Kamakura and Muromachi periods was considered socially unacceptable.

Symbolism and Cultural Significance

During its heyday, the eboshi symbolized masculinity and was perceived as a status symbol for men.

Losing or having one's eboshi taken off was seen as a humiliating act, capable of escalating conflicts.

Notable figures like Hosokawa Masamoto, who was known for his eccentric behavior, even gained attention for refusing to wear the eboshi.

However, in the later feudal period, it became customary for men to leave their hair exposed and forego headgear, marking a shift in societal norms.

In contrast, the Meiji era saw a decline in the practice of tying the hair in a topknot, resulting in the adoption of eboshi styles that securely covered the entire head.

This type of eboshi is still worn by sumo referees in the present day.

Interestingly, nobles often favored larger eboshi designs during the early Meiji period.

The eboshi's influence extends beyond clothing, as its distinctive shape has inspired the design of helmets known as "eboshi-nari."

Crafting an Eboshi

The materials required for crafting an eboshi include washi paper, preferably of high quality, as it is lightweight and durable.

While some variations use Western paper, washi's long fibers make it more suitable for processing.

To create an eboshi, three layers of washi paper are coated with adhesive, crumpled into a spherical shape, and pressed against a copper plate with concave and convex patterns known as "shibo."

The "shibo" creates the characteristic textured surface of the eboshi.

After drying, two layers are connected, and an edge is added to give it a three-dimensional shape.

A metal mold is used to attach the layers using adhesive and warmth.

The front of the eboshi, known as the "face," is refined, and the edges and center are bordered before applying lacquer for a polished finish.

Eboshi Craftsmanship and Traditions

The number of skilled Eboshi craftsmen has dwindled over time.

During a noble's coming-of-age ceremony, a guardian known as the "eboshi parent" plays a significant role.

This tradition originated from the initial crown ceremony of the Heian period, where nobles wore crowns while the eboshi was held.

This marked an important transition into adulthood.

Interestingly, during the Heian period, children imitated adults by tying triangular pieces of cloth around their foreheads instead of wearing eboshi.

This practice eventually became part of funeral attire, with the cloth changing from black to white.

Types of Eboshi

There are various types of eboshi, each with its own characteristics and purposes.

Let's explore some of the most notable ones:

Standing Eboshi

The standing eboshi is the most prestigious and formal type.

It is cylindrical in shape, crushed from both sides and typically worn with hunting attire, occasionally with straight robes as well.

Even today, this style is still worn by Shinto priests.

In festive contexts, it is not uncommon to see young boys wearing golden-standing eboshi as part of their ceremonial costumes.

Matte finishes are reserved for funerals.

Folded Eboshi

The folded eboshi refers to all eboshi that have been folded in some way.

In a broad sense, it encompasses various styles, including the "samurai eboshi" or "commoner eboshi."

The latter was used by both samurai and the general populace.

Modern sumo referees continue to wear the folded eboshi.

Rubbed Eboshi

The rubbed eboshi is made from thin cloth, dyed with persimmon juice or lightly coated with lacquer, giving it a softer texture.

Wilting eboshi

Unlike the folded eboshi, it does not undergo lacquering, resulting in a more supple headgear.

Samurai warriors wore this type of eboshi beneath their helmets, but it was also commonly worn by ordinary men.

Iron Eboshi

As the name suggests, the iron eboshi is made of iron.

There is a legend that Tanzo, a shrine priest of the late Heian period, used an iron eboshi at a cockfighting shrine.

This type of eboshi is associated with the Tottori region and carries a unique historical significance.

Wind-Folding Eboshi

The wind-folding eboshi is worn by cormorant fishermen to protect their heads from sparks and embers.

It consists of a single layer of hemp cloth wrapped around the head, shielding the hair from potential fire hazards.


The eboshi has played an essential role in Japanese culture throughout history, symbolizing masculinity, social status, and ceremonial occasions.

From its humble beginnings as a silk headgear to the lacquered paper construction that became prevalent, the eboshi has evolved alongside societal changes.

Craftsmanship associated with the eboshi has become rarer, but its cultural significance remains.

Today, the eboshi continues to be a fascinating emblem of tradition and heritage in Japan.

With its various styles and unique design, the eboshi remains a testament to Japan's rich history and cultural practices.

Whether worn by nobles, samurai, or sumo referees, the eboshi's distinctive shape and symbolism continue to captivate the imagination.

Its legacy reminds us of the importance of preserving and honoring ancient traditions in a rapidly changing world.

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