Samurai’s Dark Smile, Putin Doesn’t Talk, Finland Doesn’t Trust

Sooner or later we are going to see a rebirth of interest in Japan and so we should reflect on the fact that the Samurai wore his teeth jet black... While Norway has overtaken Russia in the supply of natural gas to Western Europe, Putin has gone quite so Finland started to call-up its military reservists (Leggilo in italiano)

Black teeth and dark smiles — Curiosity about Japan and things Japanese is variable and is at present off peak, perhaps because China is at the moment the focus of the World’s oriental concerns.

Still, sooner or later we are going to see a rebirth of interest in the noble samurai. Maybe we should use this period of calm to reflect on the fact that these warriors – like nearly all other Japanese of the time – wore their teeth jet black.

The practice seems to have become common around the 12th Century. Chronicles record that in a war between the opposing Genji and Taira factions (1180-1185), the sides were distinguishable because the first still had white teeth while the second, following the fashion of the Court, had stained their teeth black.

The men with the black choppers won that one. The Hōjō regents, who belonged to the Taira family, blackened their teeth and the rest of the country found it convenient to follow suit. The practice spread rapidly and was as universal among women as among men.

The blackening of teeth is not something you’d want to do with shoe polish. Exactly how it was accomplished in early Medieval Japan is not clear, but by the Edo period the technique was well understood. It depended on a treatment with a compound based on iron acetate, variously called tessho (iron juice) or dashigane (metal extract).

The practice survived, more or less intact, especially among the better families, into the early 19th Century. Then, after a mere 600 years, the fad lapsed.

It is tempting to suppose that this decline in dental cosmetics might be a further example of the corruption brought by contact with the barbarous West, which eventually also contributed golf, rock’n’roll and “Big Macs” to present-day Japan. At any rate, what is truly a shame is that the habit died on the eve of the introduction of photography, depriving us of samurai and geisha class photos full of dark smiles.


Putin has gone silent — Laughing, scratching and passing almost unobserved, Norway has—amply—overtaken Russia in the supply of natural gas to Western Europe: deliveries of Norwegian gas in the first quarter reached 29.2 billion cubic meters (bcm), while Russian deliveries were 20.29 bcm. The data come from Norway’s Gassco and Russia’s Gazprom and exclude deliveries to member states of the European Union in Eastern Europe.

The results depend in part on EU successes in lowering Europe’s energy dependence on Russian supplies following the alarming events in Ukraine and Crimea, but much depends as well on the often criticized “open market.” Since the price of natural gas is largely determined by that of petroleum, many operators held off on the purchase of the Russian product while they waited for the dramatic crash of oil on world markets to be reflected in Gazprom pricing. That didn’t happened. Instead, silence has fallen over Russian threats to cut off EU energy supplies if the Europeans do not yield to Putin’s new policy of “recovering” formerly Soviet territory.


Dangerous Finns — Finland is preparing for the eventual necessity to call-up its military reservists. The country doesn’t not belong to Nato or to any other military alliance, counting on its stance as a neutral for protection. The Finns may feel that is no longer enough. The military High Command has now sent letters to 900 thousand former conscripts to remind them of their service obligations in the event of war and informing each one where to report for duty if the need arises. Finland’s regular armed force number only 16 thousand troops, though they are well trained and well armed.

Rich and peaceful, Finland has an aggressive and expansionist neighbor, Russia, with whom it shares a common border 1,300 kilometers (around 830 miles) long. The last time the Russians invaded the country, in 1939, they won—but the Red Army lost 127,000 men as well as something like 500 aircraft, around a quarter of all those used in combat. The Finns lost only 26,000 troops and essentially no planes (they hardly had any).



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