The osuberakashi is a hairstyle for noble women in the Heian period.
It originally referred to the hairstyle of letting hair down naturally, but the 'motoyui-gake-suihatsu,' a hairstyle of tying hair at shoulder length with an emotoyui (motoyui, or paper string for tying hair, for decoration) and hair below with mizuhiki (decorative Japanese cord made from twisted paper) at equal distance, is also sometimes called 'osuberakashi.'
At a coming of age ceremony or a ceremony at the Imperial Court, women pull their fringes up and form the motodori (hair tied up on the top of the head) with a comb in the motodori, a reminiscence of the custom during the Nara period in which people tied their hair.
Today, the hairstyle of motoyui-gake-suihatsu (forming the motodori) which increases the volume of the hair with a form or kamoji (hairpiece used when tying hair) inserted is generally called 'osuberakashi.'
Women in the Imperial family have the osuberakashi hairstyle as formal attire in addition to wearing juni-hitoe (twelve-layered ceremonial kimono) when attending traditional ceremonies; furthermore, even ordinary women sometimes wear juni-hitoe and have the hairstyle at wedding ceremonies.
How to care for long hair
Daughters of high-ranking officials in the Heian court easily had hair longer than at least two meters. It certainly took more trouble than expected to maintain such long hair. They combed their hair every day while adding moisture to it with rice water (water left over from washing rice). They placed their hair in a spiral shape in shallow, wide lacquered containers near the pillows when sleeping.
People avoided taking a bath on imibi (days considered to be unlucky), and so women wrapped their hair around the pillows with fragrance added as a deodorizer on those days when they were unable to wash their hair. Waiting maids in the Imperial Court even had a two-day holiday called 'washing hair holidays' because it took long time for them to dry their hair after taking a bath. These measures were taken since women were obliged to grow their hair long. They cut off only the ends of their hair without trimming no matter how annoying and how long and untidy their hair grew to be.
Their hair had been shaved until they turned to two to three years old; after the ceremony of Kamioki (a ritual held when children start growing their hair), they were allowed to grow their hair. They let their hair grow naturally afterwards. When they got to a certain age (sixteen in the early modern period and younger in the Jodai, or the era around the Nara period), girls had a kichijitsu (days considered to be lucky) chosen and their hair trimmed at the ceremony of Binsogi (a ceremony to celebrate girls' coming of age by trimming their hair), which corresponds to the present-day coming of age ceremony.
Their fathers or brothers usually took the role to trim their hair while chanting 'Chihiro, chihiro' (meaning very long); in some cases, however, a fiance trimmed his future bride's hair as Hikaru Genji did Lady Murasaki's hair.
After the ceremony, women were allowed to trim part of their hair over the forehead or the cheeks or at shoulder length as they wished. The hairstyle after this trim was also called binsogi. Women trimmed their hair, not because they liked to move easily, but because they simply wanted to add glamour to their appearance with their waving hair.
When busy, unsophisticated waiting maids quickly tucked the hair trimmed at shoulder length behind the ears, a hairstyle called 'mimihasami.'
They were despised for their bad manners, however, if they had the 'mimihasami' hairstyle too often.
Women with thin hair or elderly women improved the appearance of their hair by attaching natural hairpieces called 'kamoji.'
Elderly women used their own hair that had fallen out naturally and been collected by them when they were young, but women born with thin hair used someone's hair.
When they became nuns after their husband's death, for example, women had haircuts called amasogi which was to cut at shoulder length their fine, long hair they had had for a long time. They subsequently lived a quiet life without glamorous dresses or feasts, surrounded by their children and grandchildren.
Is a woman's hair her life?
Black hair taken good care of as 'a woman's life' was nothing but trouble in an emergency.
The story about Sahobime who escaped from strong samurai by being clad in a dress rotten by alcohol and wearing a wig after shaving her head might be a legend; however, women indeed had difficulty in running away and fighting back when grabbed by the hair as shown in the scene in the Battle of Dannoura that women who tried to commit suicide by drowning were captured by their hair's being entangled with a rake and were held captive.
In the Kamakura period, women such as waiting maids had a hairstyle called mijira-suberakashi in which their hair was at up to waist length and was tied back in a ponytail. This style became mainstream, afterwards.
Additionally, ordinary women who made their living such as familiar peddlers of the Katsurame (female peddlers in Kyoto from Katsura) and the Oharame (female peddlers in Kyoto from Ohara) tied their hair in a few bunches, wrapped them around their heads and covered the heads with tenugui (hand towel).
In the Azuchi-Momoyama period, the custom of tying hair was revived among yujo (courtesan), and accordingly, suihatsu (long flowing hair) became obsolete except among high-ranking females or shrine maidens at shrines.