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Goin’ Japanesque!

Kanzashi: A Hair Ornament Vital to Kimono and Apprentice Geisha & Maiko

When wearing kimono or yukata, the classic kanzashi hair ornament is absolutely indispensible, not just for its fashion virtues but also for the significance found in its many varieties. Come and deepen your knowledge of this traditional Japanese accessory with us!


The History of Kanzashi



A word referring to traditional hair ornaments for women, kanzashi trace their roots back to the Jomon period (14,000–300 BCE), where it seems that a rod or stick wound through the hair was thought to ward against magic.

溪斎英泉「今様美人拾二景 おてんばそう 深川すさき弁財天」,

In the last years of the Edo period (1603–1868), kanzashi suddenly became all the rage. Many varieties and ways to wear them were developed, leading to a diversity of different fashions. There are a number of examples from this era that show remarkable craftsmanship and quality in materials, making Edo kanzashi true treasures for many collectors.


Types of Kanzashi


This traditional hair ornament can take a huge variety of shapes, including the hirauchi-kanzashi, tama-kanzashi, chiri-kan, bira-kan, matsuba-kanzashi, yoshichō, birabira-kanzashi, and tsumami-kanzashi. By changing up both shape and usage, a wearer can get quite creative with her fashion and really personalize her look.


Maiko Kanzashi (shape)

Different kanzashi for geisha (one on left) and maiko (two on right),

For geisha and maiko (trainee geisha), there are rules to kanzashi. Unlike those of their seniors, the geisha, the kanzashi of maiko are long and dangle downwards (for their first year only). With advances in work experience and overall rank come changes in both hairstyle and kanzashi form.


The Maiko’s “Tsumami-kanzashi”


Changing with the seasons, the special tsumami-kanzashi (flower ornament) of the maiko is an expression of the shifting seasons that takes on the aspect of a different flower for each month of the year.

April: cherry blossoms,

June: willow tree,

August: susuki grass,

As you can see, depending on its shape or color each kanzashi gives you a completely different impression full of the richness of Japanese culture and tradition.

Kanzashi really are stunning example of fashion expression, aren’t they? If you find yourself picking a kanzashi out for yourself one day, we hope what we’ve told you today will help you with choosing one that’s not just pretty but personally meaningful, too. Also, when you go to wear a kimono, why not try out a colorful kanzashi that’s a little out of your fashion comfort zone? It might open a brand-new world for you!


Bonus: Kanzashi and Earpicks

If you see a kanzashi from an earlier era, you might be surprised to see it can also be used as an earpick (like a cotton swab for people with dry earwax). This was a way around the numerous sumptuary laws of the Edo period, in which kanzashi inevitably classified as luxury items. Insisting they were nothing more than humble everyday items, people would hide their kanzashi by using them as earpicks. Even now, there are elements of this clever avoidance that remain in kanzashi design, and some kanzashi are even sold as both hair ornament and ear pick. On a further note, another way that historical Edoites would squeeze in a little rebellion against these regulations was with their kimono material. The outer kimono, done in a very plain pattern or dye, would hide a colorfully gorgeous inner lining. Just a little historical anecdote for the interested!

Related: Overview on the Differences Between a Kyoto Maiko and Geiko

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