= Men’s Headgear =

by Joshua L. Badgley

An important part of just about any outfit is what goes on the head. Hats and hairstyles can often represent rank, position, job, or similar distinctions. It was not the case that hats would be worn purely at random, though there may be elements of personal freedom of choice within given range. We will therefore be presenting the hats, hairstyles, and other headgear historically seen in Japan, with a focus on pre-Edo culture. In each entry, pay attention not just to the hat, but the occasions on which it was worn and by whom and when.

The headgear will be categorized with like headgear for easier browsing. Thus, various kanmuri will be together, as will the various styles of eboshi.


When thinking about Japanese history, few things are quite so distinctive as hairstyles. When talking about the samurai, many people immediately think of the bald pate with the knot of hair folded over from the back. While that was very specifically an Edo period hairstyle, it was derived from earlier styles. In addition, many of the hats expected specific hairstyles, such as eboshi and kanmuri, expected a specific hairstyle to truly work. Thus, before we even start to talk about hats, let's talk about the hairstyles that would go underneath them.

In the earliest period, we see a style known to us as mizura, which appears in haniwa figures and paintings of historical and legendary figures. In this style, the hair is gathered up in two ponytails, one on either side of the head, and those are pulled up into loops. Yamato Takeru and many legendary emperors are often depicted with this hairstyle.

Young boys would wear their hair down. As they grew older, through most of the Heian to Sengkoku periods, it would be gathered into a ponytail in the back, which eventually could be gathered up into a motodori. This was the initial topknot, which was essential to properly wearing many of the more formal hats.

Mizura (角髪)

One of the oldest hairstyles, this is often seen in depictions of warriors from the ancient period of Japanese history, before adopting the styles of the Chinese court. It is seen in haniwa, the ancient funerary statues of the Kofun period, and consists of two ponytails, one on either side of the head. These are looped down and back up, each then being secured in place with some sort of wrapping. The assumption is cloth, though we have no extant evidence. Even into the early period of Chinese contact, it is not uncommon to see this hairstyle on young boys.

Motodori (髻)

The motodori was the standard hairstyle for men, particularly the nobility, during the Heian period. The long hair would be pulled up in a type of topknot at the back of the head and wrapped around into a thin, upward turned bunch. Unlike later styles, there was no expectation of shaving the top of the head, and the short queue stood up, away from the head, rather than resting on top. This hairstyle was required to properly wear the kanmuri and many styles of eboshi, though there are cords that could be used for those without the necessary.

Chasengami (茶筅髪)

“Tea whisk hair” gets its name from its shape, which looks like an upside down tea whisk. It was popular among the warriors in the Sengoku period, and resembles a thick, abbreviated motodori.

Chonmage (丁髷)

This is the classic samurai topknot. It comes off the back of the head and then turns back forward, resting on the top of the head, which is often shaved. Developed in the late Sengoku Period, it became especially popular in the Edo period, where it became a symbol of the warrior class. 

Eboshi (烏帽子)

Eboshi refers to a class of hats seen from at least the Nara period. They are uniformally of black cloth, usually hemp or similar, and later versions even used paper. The black color gave them their name, the Chinese characters translating to “bird hat” because it resembled the feathers of a black bird. Originally they were soft and pliable, going around the head and covering the hair, while often falling back, a style which remained common with commoners and was known as nae-eboshi (pliable eboshi). Eventually, the fabric was starched and lacquered, such that it took on a tall, upright shape. For nobles allowed into the palace, or tenjōbito, the erect tate-eboshi was the preferred style, while the lower ranking jige made do with the rakish kazaori-eboshi. The shape varied with the rank and position of the wearer, but nonetheless these were everyday hats, as opposed to the formal kanmuri.

As the bushi rose in power and stature, they initially adopted more refined versions of the nae-eboshi, such as the hikitate-eboshi, which was convenient for wearing under a kabuto, particularly with the way it often was tied on. As the movement towards a more strong, crisp appearance came into fashion with emondō the samurai adopted a folded ori-eboshi that became the iconic headwear for centuries to come.

Though originally of starched or lacquered cloth, which was light and semi-opaque, later eboshi used thickly lacquered cloth or even paper to achieve the appropriate appearance. This style can still be seen at Shinto shrines and festivals, even today.

These hats are almost exclusively worn by men. Exceptions, such as shirabyōshi dancers, are wearing explicitly male garments. This is likely largely due to to the fact that they were made to fit with the common male hairstyle, the motodori, which often caused the eboshi to extend slightly off the back of a man's head, though there were cords to help with those who could not otherwise achieve the desired effect.

Nae-eboshi (萎烏帽子)

Nae-eboshi, or “soft” eboshi, is most commonly seen on commoners and men without official court rank. These hats were so called because their black fabric was pliable, allowing them to bend and twist. Unlike the more heavily lacquered hats of the court nobles, they would not be expected to stand on their own. This style actually encompasses a number of hats that were later utilized, including the heirei-eboshi, the hitai-eboshi, and the hikitate-eboshi.

Tate-eboshi (立烏帽子)


The tate-eboshi, or “standing eboshi,” is your classic eboshi shape. Early Heian versions are usually tall, as seen here, and worn just off the back of the head (held in place by the motodori). For those without a motodori or similar hairstyle, the hat could incorporate cords that tie under the chin. These ties were thin, white cords that could be hidden in the eboshi construction or might be wrapped around the outside (particularly in later and smaller variations). These hats are typically straight along the sides, with a rounded, flat top. In the high center front there is a depression, called an “uya,” which helps the hat hold its shape. Around the rim it typically a band of leather or similar material where the hat rests on the head.

Though lacquered, the weave for the Heian period version was open, and the hat itself was only semi-opaque, much like any single layer of clothing.

The tate-eboshi was worn by high ranking court nobles, generally those who had been granted access to the palace (tenjōbito). Others would wear the kazaori-eboshi, instead.

There was also a smaller version, which was more practical, and appears to be the progenitor of later versions.

Though originally made of cloth, later versions were made of lacquered paper and other, more opaque, materials (as would other eboshi). These tended to have a very distinct, “crinkled” appearance on the outside. Today you still see these tate-eboshi worn by Shinto priests conducting ceremonies.

While originally just a dimple, the uya is typically reinforced by thread that can be seen on the outside. Depending on the school, these threads may be symmetrical or they may be uneven on the left or on the right.


Kazaori-eboshi (風折烏帽子)

The name for this hat means “wind-swept eboshi,” referencing the way the top is folded as though knocked aside by the wind. It was worn by jige, the lower ranking courtiers.

This hat shares much in common with the tate-eboshi, being made of the same material and even the same base pattern. It may or may not have an uya, or central depression on the front, and hidden or visible cords may be used if needed, though ideally it should sit on the motodori and thus a little off the back of the head. Over time, the lacquered fabric (or even paper) became much more stiff and opaque, as can be seen in the example to the right.

This shouldn't be confused with the hikitate-eboshi, which was a type of nae-eboshi, and though it was often twisted or folded back, it is quite different. 

Hikitate-eboshi (引立烏帽子)

The hikitate-eboshi is a type of nae-eboshi that was adopted by the warrior class as they rose to power. Much like the tate-eboshi, it is a tall hat, and it often stands up and away from the head. However, unlike the former, it is only lightly lacquered, so it remains pliable, and does not make use of the uya. It was favored by warriors as it could be worn, even underneath a kabuto, though as time went on there were certainly some more high class variants that likely would have suffered under such treatment.

Although the basic hikitate-eboshi is like the standard eboshi, there is a variant that incorporates white ties around the rim. These ties help to hold the hikitate-eboshi onto the wearer's head as they go galloping across the kantō plain or as they are caught in battle. Both versions show up together in the 13th Century Mongol Invasion Scrolls of Takezaki Suenaga.

Ori-eboshi (折烏帽子)

This eboshi, is a latecomer to the party. Derived from the nae-eboshi in conjunction with the “strong” aesthetic of the emondō fashion, this folded hat became the standard for the samurai. For that reason, it was also called a “samurai-eboshi.”

At first glance, it may be hard to see the similarities between this and the other eboshi, above, when one looks at the folding patterns, it becomes easier to see exactly what is going on. In truth, there was no one, single method of folding the ori-eboshi.

Once folded, the ori-eboshi is lacquered into position so that it will maintain its shape.


Old style ori-eboshi



The classic court cap, imported from China where it is known as the guan. This hat grew out of the native headwear of the Han Chinese. The original version appears to be a black cloth that is tied around and over the head, often classified, in English sources, as a type of turban. In Japan, this was known as a tokin and it was commonly seen in the Asuka, Nara, and early Heian periods. Though made of pliable fabric, this early form still had a distinctive bump at the top and back of the head, where one's hair was put up. In China, a stiffened form was sometimes used under the cloth to provide the desired shape, and this may have been used in Japan as well. In back, the ties of the cloth hang down, leading to what would eventually become the ei, or tails.

With the import of the cap-rank system in the Asuka period, a form of official court cap was instituted. As in China, these became stiffer over time, as the shape was codified. In Japan, a similar evolution happened around the same time, developing into the kōburi, which had many of the elements of the later kanmuri.

By the Insei period we get our first true kanmuri. In these early versions the ei continues to hang straight down, and the front brim is high, like the prow of a ship. By the end of the period, the shape had flattened out some, and an ei-tsubo was added to the back to allow the ei to stick up and then fall back down. At this point the ei becomes a great distinguishing factor between the types of kanmuri: bunkan sokutai of the civilian officials uses the falling suiei style, while the military officials' bukan sokutai uses the wrapped ken'ei and the blinder-like ōikake. There are other styles developed in the periods following.

Kanmuri are often made to be taken apart; these are known as hanachi koji. The koji and ei are removable, for easier storage when not in use. The koji is held in place with the kanzashi, which goes through holes in the base as well as the koji, and then out the other side.

Modern kanmuri generally made-to-order, primarily by four families in Japan. They vary slightly in the slope of the top, the size of the koji and the placement of the ei-tsubo. It is traditionally made by creating a skeleton, or harinuki, of paper on a wooden form. The outside of the hari-nuki is lacquered so as to keep its shape, and then the body of ra silk is layered on top. The entire thing is lacquered stiff.

The fabric used to cover the form varied with the rank of the wearer. For those of 6th rank and below, a plain weave was used. For those 5th rank and above, the silk was of a patterned weave, instead.

Tokin (頭巾)

The original court cap imported into Japan, this is the classic hat of the Han Chinese, consisting of a black ra silk sewn together into a bag-like hat, with ties on the back (ei) and on the sides (ageo). The simple cap went over the head and tied in the back to tighten it and tied on top to give it shape. The characteristic raised bump, or koji, at the back of the head was meant to accommodate the wearer's motodori. In China, there exists evidence of special boxes made to be worn under the koji to give it the right shape, before the advent of the fully rigid kanmuri in later periods. 


The first Japanese evolution of the court cap is the kōburi. This used stiffer fabric to form a more rigid shell, but still had the ageo ties at the base of the koji, which is large and fat. The ei on this model hang straight down off the back, where they are ostensibly tied.

Although this was a Japanese evolution of the very Chinese tokin, it still bears a lot in common with the evolution of the guan on the mainland, likely due to the frequent and continuous contact during this period. However, from here on out, the two would diverge significantly. Both would get rid of the ageo, at least in its current form, but while the ei of the guan would be made to stick straight out to the left and right of the wearer's head, the Japanese ei would continue to fall down in back. The Japanese would also shrink the size of the koji and add a pin, or kanzashi, to help hold the cap on.

Isodaka no Kanmuri

Early Heian kanmuri were made in a style known as “iso-daka”, or “high shore.” This style is characterized by the front of the kanmuri (the iso, or “shore”) being higher than the back of the (the umi, or “ocean”). In addition to this high forehead, the koji is still rather thick, though gaining the more tubular shape seen in later versions, and the ei hang straight off the back. It added a kanzashi, which was a pin that went through a small hold in the base of the koji, through the motodori, and out the other side. A small cord connected the pin with a receiving end cap on the opposite end, and was known as the ageo (replacing the previous version seen on the kōburi).

This version is often seen in depictions of titular character of The Tale of Genji.

Eitsubo no Kanmuri

The evolution of the court cap progressed, with the forehead coming down, the koji grew narrower, and the ei changed from two to one. Most noticeable, perhaps, was the addition, on the back of the kanmuri, of the ei tsubo, where the ei could be attached. This receptacle allowed for a new type of ei, which would stand up instead of simply dangling down behind, and it provided. By this point, the “window” in the top of the kanmuri, to ensure hot air could escape. This is the general form still seen today.

With the addition of the ei tsubo, the ei itself began to take on different shapes. Two of the most common are the suiei and the ken'ei, which are used with the sokutai.

Suiei no Kanmuri

This is, technically, an eitsubo no kanmuri defined by the type of ei. In this case, the ei arcs up and falls down in back. It is a single ei, and usually slightly offset. It is commonly seen on those wearing the hoeki no hō or its close cousin, the ikan no hō.

Ken'ei no Kanmuri

The this is another eitsubo no kanmuri, though in this case the ei is wrapped in a circle and secured, giving it its name, ken'ei. It is most often worn with martial outfits such as the bukan sokutai or a kachie, and typically has the “blinders,” or ōikake. This is why it is also called the ōikakekan.

The ōikake are attached to cords that come down from the cap and tie under the chin, to help reinforce the kanzashi in keeping everything on the wearer's head. They are bundles of stiffened, lacquered horsehair arranged in a half-circle on the cords that hang from the kanzashi, placed just at the upper edge of the kanmuri.

The ken'ei itself is formed by wrapping the ei in a large circle and held in place with a thin wooden clip.

Kasa (笠)

Kasa are a class of hat typically worn to protect the wearer against the weather. They are usually made out of bamboo and rice straw, except for the jingasa, which were typically made of leather or metal.

To protect the wearer against inclement weather, rice straw vanes are typically wound around a bamboo frame horizontally, with the upper layers overlapping the lower to create the innermost layer. On top of this, another layer of rice straw vanes are attached vertically. These can all be sewn into place with delicate stitching. Underneath, a straw or cloth circle or pad, called an atamadai is attached to provide some comfort and stability. The atamadai has attached loops or cords that can be used to tie the kasa securely onto the head.


Also called “kashira tsutsumi (literally “head wrapping”), this is the basic headwrapping seen on sōhei (warrior monks) and other Buddhist monks and nuns. It is said that it was derived from Buddhist initiates, who had just had their head shaved, wrapping their kesa around their heads and face.


Literally translating to “head cloth,” this describes a number of cloth hats worn by men and women. The most basic versions are simply long pieces of cloth that are folded and sewn up the sides. Some versions have extra pieces attached at the back or sides (called shikoro, like on kabuto). A round version can be traced to at least Tokugawa Ieyasu, and then developed futher in the Edo Period. These hats are often seen on Confucian scholars and artists, such as tea masters and actors.


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