History of Kanzashi, Japanese ornamental hair pin

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<Origin of Kanzashi>

Kanzashi is ornamental hair pin for women. In the middle and the late of Edo period (1700-1800), the way of doing hair in Japan was intricately developed and in accordance to that, so many kinds of Kanzashi appeared and became fashionable.

In ancient Japan, people believe that some magical power dwells in pointy wiry stick. Because of this reason, people wore the pointy stick on the hair on order to get rid of the devils from them.

The pointy stick was rather used as good luck charm than an ornamental hair pin at the beginning. But it turned out to be Kanzashi of today.
It is said that it was used to call “Kami Sashi” meaning putting on the hair but gradually abbreviated as “Kanzashi”.

<Heian period>
On the other hand, there is another theory of origin. In Heian period (794-1185), there was a habit of both men and women wore wild flower or branches of the trees on their hair at ritual events or festivals. And it was called “Kazashi” meaning wearing flower on the hair. Some believe that “Kazashi” turned into the “Kanzashi”.

The Kanji(Chinese letter) of Kanzashi() came from China. In Nara period(710-784), a lot of products were imported from China including original model of modern comb called Hikigushi(horizontally long shape comb) and Saishi(dual legs hair pin). These are written as in China and we Japanese read it as “Kanzashi”.

Also, there was a habit of tying a topknot on the hair called Mage in China at the time. This Mage culture was flow into Japan as well as the comb. People in Japan also started to tie a topknot on the hair.

However, in Heian period Mage culture was gradually got old fashioned and people liked to let their hair hang down. And there was less necessity of using comb or ornamental hair pin including Kanzashi. 


<Azuchi-momoyama period>
For many years, women let their hair hanging down but it changed in Azuchi-momoyama period(1573-1600). Women started to dress their hair again. At that time, there was a popular Kabuki actress called Izumono-Okuni. It is said that she started to wear a topknot on her hair and it became some kind of trend among women. Women of high status remained hanging their hair down but ordinary people tie their hair in order not to interfere there job.

They preferred very functional hair style as ponytail or Chinese “Karawa”, piling up the hair in the top of the head. This Karawa style is said to be the original model of so called “Japanese hair” of these days and it has been developed really unique way in Japan.


<Edo period>
When it became Edo period(1603-), women used their skill to make various up style hair. The style called “ Shimada-Mage” or “ Katsuyama- Mage” became popular among women. Because of this prosperity of Mage, Kanzashi saw the light of day again.

*Read more the ariticle  “Kanzashi at the Edo period


At the beginning of Edo period, “Hanabira-Kanzashi” was made in Kyoto in the motif of petal of flower. It was introduced to Edo (current Tokyo) and turned to create “Tsumami-Kanzashi”.

After the middle of the Edo prriod(1700-), Mage became more and more complicated and gorgeous and in accordance with this change of Mage, Kanzashi was also made in variety of shapes(ellipse, wide and slim etc) , decorations(Japanese lacquer, gold or silver lacquer, mother-of-pearl, inlay and openwork etc) and materials(ivory, tortoise shell, horse hooves, gold and silver etc). From warrior caste (samurai family) to commonalities, Kanzashi was regarded as commodity of women fashion.

In the 1700’s, Kanzashi with earpick end made an appearance. There is also same type of Kanzashi in market these days. There is a theory that people use the earpick as practical item at that time. On the other hand, there is another theory that people just wanted to get away from the control of the government which often issued regulation restricting all sorts of luxury goods. People put the earpick on the end of Kanzashi in order for it to look just like daily necessary item.

Kanzashi reached new heights of prosperity at the end of Edo period and craftspeople specialized in Kanzashi made varieties of Kanzashi such as Tama-Kanzashi, Hana-Kanzashi and Birabira-Kanzashi by combining the best technology.

At that time, women of the street were the fashion icon and they preferentially used Kanzashi on their hair. They put 3-4 Kanzashi on both left and right of their hair and it became in style.


<Meiji period>
In the Meiji Period, as society of Japan rapidly westernized, the hair style also transferred from Japanese style to Western style. And because of this, the culture of Kanzashi was declined except for the society of Geisha. However, in recent years, Kanzashi re-evaluated among people. You are able to tie your hair easily with only one Kanzashi and it is really functional.

There are unorthodox Kanzashi these days and you can wear it not only with Japanese Kimono style but also casual western style clothes as well.

Find a Kanzashi that suits you from HERE!