(Yome toome kasa no uchi;
“Seen at night; seen from afar; wearing a hat”)
This phrase asserts that women are most beautiful when seen in the dark, or from a distance, or when mostly obscured by something like a large hat. Like the horror-movie trope that a monster is always scarier when implied to be present but not actually shown so that your mind can fill in the gaps… except kind of sexist. The power of deliberate vagueness stimulating the human imagination.
We begin this series of noun phrases with compound noun 夜目 (yome), literally “night eye.” This can refer to either night-vision, or to “something seen in the dark”; this saying uses the latter meaning. Next comes compound noun 遠目 (toome, literally “far eye”), which can be long-distance vision, farsightedness, or in this case “something seen at a distance.” And finally we get the noun 内 (uchi), “inside,” with associative particle の (no) connecting it to, and modifying it with, the noun 笠 (kasa), a classic woven-straw peaked hat.
Variant phrases may place the woman under the hat (笠の下, kasa no shita) or put 遠目 in front and follow it with the even more distant 山越し (yamagoshi, “on the other side of a mountain”), among others. However, replacing 笠 with homophone 傘 (“umbrella”) is an error.
This saying apparently comes to us from a joururi play titled 『山城の国畜生塚』 (Yamashiro no kuni chikushoudzuka) by way of our friend, the Edo-era poetic-theory text 『毛吹草』 (Kefukigusa). It is the yo entry of the Kyoto iroha karuta set.
(“Yome toome kasa no uchi to iu kedo, shoujiki ni iu to, kao wa kankei nai. Anna ni sugoi boushi wo kaburou to omotta hito to hanashite mitai nda.”)
[“There’s that saying about how women are prettier at night, or at a distance, or when they’re covered up, but to be honest this isn’t about her face. I just want to talk with whoever would think to wear such an amazing hat.”]