August 20, 2015
by Koudai Kobayashi and Akari Mihashi
Kanzashi is a traditional Japanese hair accessory for women. In English we might call it a ‘traditional Japanese hair ornament’. Historically, it was made of many different materials, for example, wood, gold or silver-plated metal, elephant tusks, and even silk. But recently, it has come to be made of plastic. For the part of the charm, other rare materials are used, such as coral, agate, jadeite, and crystal.
History of Kanzashi
The origins of kanzashi lie in ancient Japan. At that time people believed that a special power was contained with a thin stick, and by inserting the stick into ones hair, evil sprits or bad energy could be warded off. So, kanzashi was originally thought to be more of an amulet rather than a hair accessory.
In the Nara period (710~794 AD), what we now know as kanzashi came to Japan via China. Then, in the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573~1600 AD), the hairstyle of Japanese women changed from long straigt hair to a variety of hairdos, thus the need for greater varieties of hair ornaments. At that time, the creation and use of kanzashi became more popular.
In the early Edo period (1603 AD) in Kyoto, hanabira kanzashi (flower kanzashi) began to be worn by women. When that style made its way to Edo (what is now Tokyo), it evolved into Tumami kannzashi (we explained this type of Kanzashi below No. 4)
After the middle of the Edo period, kanzashi became more and more popular and its shape became more diversified, for example, slim ones, wide ones, and elliptical ones. Moreover, the designs became even more beautiful, colorful, and elaborate.
In the Meiji period (1868~1912 AD), in association with westernization, Japanese women adopted a more western-style look, so kananzashi became out of fashion. But nowadays because of its history and usefulness, kanzashi has become popular again.
There are now a wide variety of different kanzashi designs. Also, the price has become much more affordable, so we can buy kanzashi more easily.
Types of Kanzashi
These days, there are many kinds of Kanzashi. Here are some examples.
It is a thin and slender kanzashi. It has one or two legs. Originally, it was used by samurai class woman. On the top, there is round, rhombus, or flower-pattern ornament. It was originally made with silver, wood, or bamboo. Nowadays however, it is mainly made of plastic, because it is inexpensive.
This is a form of kanzashi that looks like an ear pick. At one end, there is a small colored ball. This ball can be made of many different materials, such as amber, lapis lazuli, jade, tortoiseshell, elephant tusk, glass, plastic, etc.
This type of kanzashi is similar to tama-kazashi, but without the ball at the top. It was made of metal traditionally, but is now also made of plastic. It used to be for married woman to wear. In the case of geisha, they can wear two such kanzashi, but in case of a prostitute, they can use any number of yoshicho kanzashi.
It is also called ‘hana-kanzashi’ because it is made into the shape of a flower. It is made of colorful silk. Tsumami-kanzashi is now often used by maiko (geisha-in-training).
As stated above, maiko are geisha-in-training. They often wear hana-kanzashi, which contain flower designs that follow the seasons of the year. In Kyoto, we can see the change of the season from the hana-kanzashi the maiko wear.
In January, pine, bamboo, and plum are common kanzashi motifs. The crane motif is also used, and it is made to appear very lively.
In February, pretty plum flowers are often used. In the days before the beginning of spring, we also see ornamental ball-shaped scent bags on kanzashi.
In March, we see rape blossom,narcissus, peony in use. Especially, the rape blossom is the most typical flower of this season.
In April, weeping cherries are common. The weeping cherry blossom is the quintessential flower of the Japanese spring, so wearing cherry blossoms on their kanzashi makes maiko look very cute.
In May, blue iris and Japanese wisteria are often used on kanzashi. In the old calendar, May signifies the rainy season, so people use a fresh color.
In June, hydrangea and willow is often used. In this month the color of Kanzashi becomes blue or green, which looks fresh. Also, the color of the maiko’s kimono changes to a lighter shade.
In July, the whole city of Kyoto is enveloped in the spirit of the Gion festival, so the style and kanzashi of maiko becomes very lively. Their kimono becomes a light color and goldfish are also used in their kanzashi. When we see kanzashi in July, we can feel cool, refreshed, and festive.
In August, morning glory and silver grass is often used. In the old calendar, August is early autumn, so the design of kanzashi becomes cooler. Morning glory is a Japanese summer tradition.
In September, bellflowers and Japanese bush clovers are often used. At the time, the atmosphere of Kyoto is perfect for relaxing.
In October, the chrysanthemum, which is the typical flower of autumn, is the main mofif. From small to large chrysanthemums, a variety of designs appear in the kanzashi.
In November, the red leaves of autumn are fantastic in Kyoto, so as you might imagine, the Kanzashi of maiko displays the same beautiful red leaves of autumn. It makes this season more colorful and beautiful.
In December, gorgeous flowers and bringers of good luck are used a lot, because in this month, people are very busy to prepare for the next year. For this reason, the design of Kanzashi is a splendid one.
How to use Kanzashi
- Tie up your hair.
- Twist your hair in a clockwise direction a few times.
- Hold your hair twisted with your one hand
- Put kanzashi into your hair from the top to the middle of the hair twisted.
- Put on the left of your head while holding your hair twisted with your one hand.
- Turn the edge of the kanzashi upside down to face the lower right.
- Insert two kanzashi to the lower right along your head.
- Wear your kanzashi with happiness and humility.
In Kyoto, there is a good Kanzashi shop, where there are various types of Kanzashi.
Please click this link and go there to buy your favorite Kanzashi.