Shogun: Why Samurai Shave Their Heads, Explained

By Klein Felt Posted:
Shogun Samurai Shaved Head

The shaved head look of Shogun's samurai might be confusing to Western audiences, but there is plenty of history showing it is more than just a fashion choice. 

FX's Shogun series (which is also streaming on Hulu) has done its best to remain faithful to its setting, recreating the era of the Japanese Tokugawa shogunate. 

This has meant shooting on location in an environment similar to Japan (the west coast of British Columbia, Canada), building massive sets to recreate feudal Japanese towns and cities, and outfitting the series' cast with authentic looks to the time. 

[ Full Cast of Shogun 2024 Series - Every Main Character & Actor In FX Show (Photos) ]

Why Do Samurai Shave Their Heads?

Shogun FX Chonmage

Fans watching FX's Shogun may have noticed some peculiar haircuts among the series' samurai, as these Japanese warriors shave parts of their heads. 

This particular haircut, known as a chonmage, is accurate to the time Shogun is set in (1600). 

The chonmage has deep roots in Japan and is known as the traditional haircut of many samurai across the nation's storied history. 

Originally, this shaved-down-the-center look was so Japanese samurai could have more breathability (or ventilation) in their helmets. It also allowed these fierce warriors' helmets to fit tighter to their heads, removing any chance of their headwear falling off and holding it steady atop the head. 

While it looks like the samurai just shaved the top of their head to achieve the chonmage look, that is far from the case. 

In a chomage, the samurai shaves the top down to the skin and then waxes and oils the remaining hair before tying it in a tight top knot. 

This particular haircut started as one of practicality and efficiency, but it did not stay that way. Over time, the chonmage transformed into somewhat of a status symbol, showing a man was of high society and a member of the noble samurai class. 

The chonmage is most associated with the Edo period (1603–1868) but can be traced as far back as the Heian period (794 to 1185) when noblemen wore crown-like headwear, and the haircut kept those crowns on their heads.

Long hair and beards had become the norm leading into the Edo period; however, with the rise of the Tokugawa shogunate, attitudes toward men's grooming started to change. 

A sleek look featuring a clean-shaven face and chonmage came into favor, with longer unkempt hair associated with barbarianism and savagery.

Following the fall of the samurai, during what would come to be known as the Meiji Restoration (1868), the chonmage was deemed a remnant of a different time, as Japanese society moved away from the hairstyle and plenty of other practices associated with the age of the samurai. 

In modern Japan, the chonmage is not too common, but it is still a common haircut of sumo wrestlers and kabuki actors.

The version of the haircut seen today is slightly different than the classical look, sporting the greased back hair and top knot without shaving the pate of the head. 

Shogun is streaming now on Hulu with new episodes released weekly on FX at 10 p.m. ET. 

Read more about FX's Shogun series:

Shogun: What Is Crimson Sky? Meaning In the Show, Explained

What Is Natto In Shogun? Meaning of Food In Show Explained

Shogun Stars Anna Sawai & Cosmo Jarvis Talk On-Screen Relationship & Favorite Moments (Exclusive)

Shogun: Did Mariko Sleep With Anjin?

- In This Article: Shogun
Release Date
February 27, 2024
Cable TV
Anna Sawai
Cosmo Jarvis
Hiroyuki Sanada
- About The Author: Klein Felt
Klein Felt is a Senior Editor at The Direct. Joining the website back in 2020, he helped jumpstart video game content on The Direct. Klein plays a vital role as a part of the site's content team, demonstrating expertise in all things PlayStation, Marvel, and the greater entertainment industry.