What Is Sanpaku?

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  • Written By: A.M. Boyle
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Images By: Zonch, Iko, ビッグアップジャパン, Nyul, Kmiragaya
  • Last Modified Date: 30 September 2019
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Sanpaku is a term used to refer to a particular appearance of a person’s eyes. Specifically, if the white of a person’s eyes are visible either below or above the colored portion, or iris, that person is said to have sanpaku eyes. This condition can either affect one or both eyes. Although there is no definitive proof, it is believed by some that a person with this type of eye appearance is suffering from some sort of a physical or mental imbalance that will affect his or her behavior.

References to sanpaku eyes are most often found in relation to Oriental or homeopathic medicine. The word comes from the Japanese term sanpakugan, which literally means “three whites.” Generally, the irises of a person’s eyes are situated at the center, with the top and bottom touching the upper and lower eyelids, respectively. For most people, the sclera is visible on either side of the iris, but it is not visible on either the top or the bottom. If the sclera is visible on the sides and either the top or bottom of the eyes, the person is said to have three whites showing.

If the iris floats upward to reveal white at the bottom of a person’s eyes, the condition is sometimes called yin sanpaku. In less common instances, the iris sinks to the bottom of the eye, revealing the sclera at the top. This condition is referred to as yang sanpaku.


Many practitioners of alternative medicine believe that a person who demonstrates yin sanpaku eyes has a physical or mental illness causing the mind, body, and spirit to be out of balance. This belief is supported by the fact that many people who are gravely ill or suffering from substance abuse, depression, or other mental illness, have the whites of their eyes showing below the irises to varying degrees. There is also some medical evidence to support this theory. In particular, when a person is under excessive stress, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or suffering extreme exhaustion, the optic nerve often contracts, pulling the iris of the eye upward, thus revealing the white beneath.

In the rarer case of yang sanpaku eyes, many practitioners of Oriental and homeopathic medicine believe that the condition is indicative of erratic and violent propensities. An individual with this condition is thought to have a serious emotional and mental imbalance that could cause him or her to have severe mood swings and angry outbursts and demonstrate aggressive or dangerous behavior. The individual who is most often referred to in support of this theory is the convicted serial killer Charles Manson, who has very prominent yang sanpaku. On the other hand, some individuals maintain that certain images of well-known politician Hilary Clinton show that she has eyes that fit this category, yet she does not fit the profile normally associated with the condition.

The condition of yin sanpaku eyes is not as uncommon as a person might imagine. Some even consider the effect to be enchanting or intriguing. In fact, there are quite a few celebrities who share those characteristics, yet there is no clear indication that they suffer from any physical or mental ailments. For instance, the actors Robert Pattinson, Morgan Freeman, and Sylvester Stallone have yin sanpaku eyes, as does singer/songwriter, Paul McCartney. Similarly, John F. Kennedy, Benjamin Franklin, and Abraham Lincoln shared the characteristic as well.


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Post 1

Although the theories behind the association with mental conditions is interesting, the list of well-known people with Sanpaku probably means those perceived connections are just old wives tales.

It seems like it is likely just a coincidence that Charles Manson happens to have Sanpaku eyes.

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