When thinking of Japan, some of the things that usually come to mind are Sushi and Samurai; perhaps Karate and Bonsai. These are all iconic images in Japan, but when it comes to cultural icons, there is one piece of headwear that embodies the quintessential image of Japan – the Hachimaki (鉢巻).

The Bosozoku wear them while riding their motorcycles, protesters wear them to get strength for perseverance, Mr. Miyagi wore one while attempting to catch a fly, and of course Daniel-san wore one at the Karate Championship.

Yes, the simple headband is a true icon in Japan and conjures images of heroic feats good luck, and acts of severe perseverance.picture of Japanese headbands

Japanese legend states that hachimaki strengthen the spirit and keep the wearer safe from evil spirits and demons. It is thought that the trend started with the Samurai, who wore the headbands underneath their helmets to absorb sweat, and to keep the helmets in place during battle.

Samurai in a Parade

But with swords being outlawed, and the Samurai being pretty much gone in modern society, when can you wear the Hachimaki in more modern times?

It’s usually worn at festivals, martial arts competitions, by carpenters, and some students even don the headband when taking exams.  Of course, everyone has seen at least one image of a Salaryman simulating the hachimaki by tying his tie around the head during drinking parties (supposedly to energise the liver?).
Also, the bosozoku (biker gangs) seem quite fond of wearing them.
Perhaps the most well known usage of the hachimaki was by the kamikaze pilots toward the end of World War II. These pilots would frequently wear a hachimaki, usually with the kanji “神風” (“Kamikaze”), before flying to their deaths.

There are different types of Headbands that can be used.  Besides the traditional white band with Kanji written on it, there are several others in common usage, which are often seen at festivals and other events.  With the summer festival season in full swing, here is a handy guide on how to tie them.

Who would’ve thought that the simple act of wrapping a length of cloth around the head could have such depth?
But like so many other things in Japan, even seemingly simple things often have a much deeper meaning behind them.  Armed with that knowledge, hope you all have a great summer festival season!

Till next time!