Kanzashi are traditional hair ornaments. Kanzashi first appeared when women of the Heian period swapped their traditional taregami hairstyle where the hair was kept very straight and long, to a more coiffured nihongami hairstyles. During the Edo period,artisans began to produce finely crafted products.
It is even thought that the hair ornaments had a second use as a weapon in case of emergency attack.
Kanzashi nowadays are more often worn by brides, geisha,maiko and tayu.It is safe to say however that Japanese women are rediscovering the elegance of kanzashi.
Kanzashi are made from a wide range of materials such as lacquered wood, gold and silver plated metal, tortoiseshell and silk, and recently, plastic. In fact, early bakelite kanzashi are now becoming increasingly collectable.
There are many varieties and many styles of wearing them. With geisha or Maiko (apprentice geisha) for example they provide subtle clues to their status. Maiko usually wear more elaborate kanzashi than older geisha.
Types of kanzashi
There are many basic kanzashi styles and a wide range of hana (flower) kanzashi.
Bira Bira Fluttering or Dangling type, these are composed of metal strips that move, sometimes with long chains of silk flowers called shidare
Are two bars of Becco ( tortoise shell or fake ) with fancy end pieces.
They have a female and male coupling in the middle that is hidden in the hair.Other materials used can be ceramic or metal. Kogai means sword in Japanese.
They are often worn alongside a kushi or comb as shown in the image on the right
Comb type, these are usually rounded combs made of tortoiseshell or lacquered wood, often with inlaid mother of pearl or gilding, and are pushed into mage (bun-style hairdo).
The spine of the comb is often wide in order to allow maximum space for the design, and in many cases, the design will extend into the teeth. Also, there are "flower-combs" called hanagushi which are made by gluing folded pieces of silk to a wooden base comb.
Kanoko Dome are heavily jewelled accessories crafted with some or all of the following: gold, silver, tortoiseshell, jade, coral, pearls and other semi-precious stones.
While the general shape is rounded, they are also found in other shapes, with flowers and butterflies being the most popular.
The kanoko dome is worn at the back of the wareshinobu hairstyle of the junior maiko and has two prongs that hold it securely in the "mage".
Hana kanzashi are the characteristic dangling hair ornaments of maiko. These are made from squares of silk with a technique known as tsumami.
Each square of silk is folded many times with the help of tweezers and cut into a single petal.
These are attached to a backing of metal or card to create whole flowers, or attached to silk threads to create long strings of blossom. Bells are added to make them even prettier.
Geisha and maiko change their hana kanzashi according to the month. and season. Maiko wear more kanzashi than geisha, so changes are even more important for them
kanzashi change from year to year, but usually has an auspicious Japanese New Year theme. Shouchikubai, a combination of pine (matsu), bamboo (take) and ume blossom, (green, red and white) are ever popular for the new year celebrations.
Trailing deep pink, or red, ume blossoms, are seen everywhere in Japan at this time of the year and symbolises young love and the approach of spring.
Trailing yellow and white rape blossoms (nanohana) and butterflies, as well as peach blossoms (momo), narcissi (suisen), and peonies (botan).
Pink cherry blossom (sakura), butterflies and bonbori lanterns, signal the approach of summer.
Cherry Blossom Viewing at this time of year is a major cultural event in Japan.
Trailing purple wisteria (fuji) and flag irises (ayame), usually of the blue ariety.
Irises denote the height of spring.
Trailing green willow (yanagi) leaves with pinks, or less commonly hydrangea (ajisai) flowers. Willow is a traditional image associated with geisha.
This month is the rainy season in Japan and therefore willow (a water loving tree) and the washy blue of hydrangea is appropriate.
Kanzashi featuring a display of fans.
These will usually be of the round uchiwa variety, but occasionally folding dancing fans are also featured.
Purple morning glory (asagao) or susuki grass.
The susuki grass appears as a starburst of spines. Senior maiko wear silver-white and junior maiko wear pink or red.
Japanese bellflower (kikyo). The purple tones are traditionally associated with autumn.
Often these will be mixed with the other autumn flowers: bush clover, patrinia, chrysanthemum, Japanese boneset, kudzu, and pinks.
Chrysanthemum (kiku). These are well loved in Japan, and are a symbol of the Imperial Family.
Usually the chrysanthemums featured are red and white, a combination which signals the height of autumn.
Trailing autumnal leaves. These may be a generic yellow leaf or the characteristic red maple leaf.
The Japanese make mochi (pounded rice balls)at this time of year, and often decorate trees with them, to represent white flowers.
It is thought to be good luck to wear kanzashi featuring mochibana, or ricecake flowers. December kanzashi also feature two maneki which are tiny blank tags.
At this time of year all maiko and geisha wear unhusked rice ears on the right side of their hairstyles