September 13, 2010

Makeup made their children stupid

samurai, shogun, makeup

Did heavy makeup bring down the shogunate?

It's possible. Remains of children of samurai show sky-high levels of lead in their bones, most likely from their mothers, who adorned their faces with white, lead-based powder. Idiocy was apparently epidemic among the Edo-era shogunate, with lead levels far above those associated with intellectual impairment. This may have had political consequences, according to an an MSNBC report, which cites the research of Tamiji Nakashima, an anatomist at the University of Occupational and Environmental Health in Kitakyushu:

Nakashima and his team think a ruling class addled by lead poisoning may have contributed to political instability, and ultimately to the collapse of the seven-century-old shogun system in 1867, when power shifted cataclysmically from the shogun to the emperor, and life in Japan changed for good.

Blood lead levels were generally low before the Industrial Revolution, and it was likewise so for people living during the Edo period (1603-1867)—except for the children of samurai—making it more than plausible that it was the heavy makeup that did them in, at least in part. And the shogunate has some august predecessors. From the MSNBC report:

It wouldn't be the first time lead poisoning rang in the end of an era. Others have suggested that "plumbism" among the Roman elite — whose fancy food and wine was laced with lead leached from cooking equipment—contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire.

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jenn p's picture

the egyptians also had lead in their makeup. we currently use all kinds of chemicals that haven't been thoroughly researched (and some that are known to cause health problems) in cosmetics, medicine and everyday products. it's sad that this culture was lost, and even sadder that we, as a people, have failed to learn from previous peoples' mistakes.

universal law's picture

Re: "Art’s not worth suffering for". That's what Vincent Van Gogh would've wished. As he once quipped, "I can very well do without God both in my life and in my painting, but I cannot, suffering as I am, do without something which is greater than I am: My life...the power to create."

James Shaheen's picture

Art's not worth suffering for. ;)

Brightside's picture

If it wasn't for lead poisoning we would not have Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.