(Friday Night History) The Moustache of Destiny

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They’re a variant of sideburns, and one of the quintessential forms of 19th century masculine facial hair grooming. Most famously worn by people like General Ambrose Burnside (from whom comes the term “sideburns”), they remain very visually distinctive. They used to be very common in some places, alongside facial hair in general– for example, in the 19th century US Navy, it was more uncommon to see naval officers without facial hair. After the Boshin War (1868-1869) and the birth of the modern Imperial Japanese Army and Navy, this sort of splendiferous facial hair also spread in popularity among officers, who had studied alongside Prussians, French, and Americans who sported similar grooming styles.

Muttonchops usually had limits.

Which brings me to this man.

Nagaoka Gaishi (1858-1933) isn’t exactly one of the best known Japanese military figures of the last 150 years.  Born in 1858 in Choshu domain, one of the victorious clans of the Boshin War, he was well positioned to take advantage of the prosperity and success enjoyed by former Choshu clansmen in the Imperial Army after the war. He saw service in the First Sino-Japanese War at the battlefront and as Vice Chief of the Imperial General Staff during the Russo-Japanese War. He was also commander of a couple of infantry divisions over the course of his career, most notably the 13th, based in Niigata on the Sea of Japan coast.  After ending active service and transferring to reserve status, he also served a stint in the House of Representatives, and was ennobled as a count  (hakushaku). Nagaoka died in April 1933.

Okay, so what’s the deal with the Muttonchops of Destiny here?

Nagaoka might be termed the father of Japanese aviation, particularly military aviation. He was a senior Army officer when airplanes were brand new, and after seeing their application in war during the First World War, understood their importance to the future of military operations. He headed the Imperial Aviation Association, was active as judge in early Japanese aviation competitions, spent time in Europe taking notes on military aircraft and aviation from British and French pilots, oversaw the reception of foreign aviators like the American pilot Art Smith (pictured below), and even offered his own residence as a temporary office for the Tokyo-Osaka airmail service following the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.

As a proponent of a very new technology and a highly visible public figure involved in them, Nagaoka also sought to spread the word as broadly as possible. Part of this involved writing books and pamphlets meant to spread the word about aviation. Some of them can be found in digitized form in the National Diet Library’s collection. The 1918 Nihon Hikō Seisaku (Japanese Aviation Policy) https://dl.ndl.go.jp/info:ndljp/pid/924020 and the 1923 Hikōki to Teitō Fukkō (Aircraft and the Imperial Capital’s Revitalization)  https://dl.ndl.go.jp/info:ndljp/pid/922671 were written as arguments for national- and capital-level policy and public planning as related to aviation, while the richly illustrated 1928 Hikōki no Hanashi (A Story About Aircraft) can be found here:  https://dl.ndl.go.jp/info:ndljp/pid/1717318 was written for school-aged readers. But there was a much more practical way he could spread the word about aviation: he grew out his muttonchops, already long during later days of his Army career, in the shape of a propeller. According to a website run by his descendants, Nagaoka’s moustache was 70cm at its longest!

I mean really. I think this is a case of “message received,” don’t you:

Nagaoka and his muttonchops are commemorated in a bronze bust in Joetsu, Niigata, on the site of the old 13th Division commander’s residence.

I’m Nyri and this has been #FridayNightHistory.

Now– questions?


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