“Ahoge” is a protruding short hair or bunch of hairs found on Japanese popular culture characters. Fictional characters sporting an ahoge are often characterized as naive, simple-minded, cunning, or energetic; however, just because the character has an ahoge, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’d fit with these associated archetypes.
Male and female characters can have an ahoge. It comes in different shapes, lengths, and sizes. It can also display a character’s state of mind like an emoticon. A strand of hair that extends like insect antennae may not count as ahoge. There is plenty of manga, anime, and video game characters that have ahoge. Examples are Artoria Pendragon from Fate/stay night, Asta from Black Clover, Edward Elric from Full Metal Alchemist, Izumi Konata from Lucky Star, Araragi Koyomi from the Monogatari series, Lala Satalin Deviluke from To-Love Ru, and Shana from Shakugan no Shana.
The word “ahoge” or アホ毛 literally means “idiot hair”. The way in which it protrudes away from the rest of the hair makes it an “idiot”, stubborn, or silly. Other associated local terms are bakage (ばか毛) or “idiot hair”, imoge (いも毛) or “potato hair”, and butage (ブタ毛)or “pig hair”. Ahoge is colloquially called jijige (ジジ毛) or “elderly man hair” in Wakayama.
A Brief History
The Western equivalent of ahoge is called a frizz or cowlick. Cowlicks were present in illustrations, comic books, or animated films from around the 1910s. Some anime fans speculate that it came from the Kewpie doll or Betty Boop. The Kewpie doll is a cherubic-like baby that appeared in several illustrations and brands. It has an iconic clump of hair sticking from its bald, round head. Betty Boop meanwhile is a fictional female character created by Max Fleisher and his team in the 1930s. Even predating anime itself, Betty Boop has the design of an old-school anime character. She has stubs of curly hair surrounding her head, which resembles ahoge.
In 1953, Tezuka Osamu created Ribon no Kishi (リボンの騎士) or “Princess Knight”. The main protagonist, Princess Sapphire, has curly ahoge similar to Betty Boop. When designing her, Tezuka took inspiration from Western popular culture, as well as the Takarazuka Revue.
Some residents from the Kanto and Kansai region claim that they have been using the word ahoge before it became a prominent part of anime culture. It has been used by the youth of Kansai since the 1970s according to Professor Yonekawa Akihiko of Baika Women’s University (梅花女子大学). There were 2 academic research papers in the 1990s where ahoge appeared as part of slang by Osaka’s youth: Campus Yougo-Shuu (キャンパス用語集) or “Campus Glossary” by Takayama Tsutomu, and Gendai yougo no kiso chishiki (現代用語の基礎知識) or “The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Words” by Kokuminsha Jiyu. The usage of the word ahoge expanded from Kansai to other regions.
Ahoge also existed as a term in the Japanese beauty industry. Stylists and professionals from the beauty industry refer to ahoge as the annoying strand or clump of hair that floats from the rest of the head. There are customers who are overly conscious of their frizzy hair. They would request their hairdressers to straighten up or remove their ahoge.
Ahoge is now a special feature of fictional characters. It can be part of their physical or personality traits. A fictional character with a unique ahoge lets them stand out from others. Fans can easily identify their favorite characters even though they can only see their outline. They can also be enamored by new characters with ahoge.
Pixiv Encyclopedia, https://dic.pixiv.net/a/アホ毛, Retrieved 22 November 2020.
Japanese Wikipedia, https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/アホ毛, Retrieved 22 November 2020.
直後に示す出（記事名：ほんま? 関西伝説 「あほ毛」広がる ぴんぴん出てくる髪指す言葉）における美容関係者の業界人的定義をそのまま辞書的定義の第一と考える。「跳ね出てきてしまう」という業務者視点のニュアンスも含めて定義である。, asahi.com, http://web.archive.org/web/20031108133558/http://www.asahi.com/kansai/special/OSK200311070022.html, 07 November 2003, Retrieved 22 November 2020.
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