Kanzashi are elaborate Japanese hair ornaments that are often worn with traditional Japanese clothing. There are many different types of kanzashi, depending on what they are made of and how they are attached to the hair.
Kanzashi appeared in Japan during the Jomon era. At that time, a thin stick or pin was believed to have mystical powers and was used to ward off evil spirits. This period also saw the appearance of the ancestor of the Japanese ornamental comb.
During the Nara era, many elements of Chinese culture were imported into Japan, such as zan (which is written with the same Chinese character as kanzashi) and other hair ornaments.
During the Heian period, the traditional style of hairstyles changed from wearing hair in a bun on the top of the head to wearing it long and possibly tied lower.
The term kanzashi began to be used as a generic word for all hair ornaments, including combs and pins.
Then, during the Azuchi-Momoyama period, hairstyles changed again from taregami (垂髪?), consisting of long straight hair, to the wider variety of styles, referred to as "Japanese hairstyle" (日本髪, nihongami?) which employed more and more ornaments.
The use of kanzashi became more widespread during the Edo period, as hairstyles became more imposing and complex and featured a greater number of ornaments.
The various craftsmen produced finely decorated works, some of which could be used as defensive weapons (such as carved metal pins).
The art of kanzashi culminated at the end of this period, with the creation of many styles and patterns of ornaments.
Today, kanzashi are most often worn with traditional costumes by brides, women who wear these costumes on a daily basis, such as geisha, tayū and yujo, or practitioners of the Japanese tea ceremony and ikebana.
However, some young Japanese women who want to add a touch of elegance and originality to professional outfits may opt for kanzashi.
The types and styles of kanzashi each have meanings, allowing a connoisseur to deduce from a geisha's hairstyle her status and other information, based on the ornaments chosen and their positions.
Maiko (apprentice geisha) usually wore more kanzashi and more elaborate hairstyles than their elders, and their hairstyles followed strict traditions, with specific patterns formed by these ornaments.
Tsumami kanzashi was officially designated as a traditional craft in the Tokyo area in 19822.
Professional craftsmen initiated according to the traditions go through an apprenticeship period that can last from five to ten years.
Their number in the country has declined sharply from an estimated fifteen to five from 2002 to 2010.
However, the folding techniques used to create tsumami kanzashi flowers have become widespread, thanks to explanation books, kits and tutorials offered by the Tsumami Kanzashi Museum in Shinjuku district, for example.
Some students have bypassed the traditional apprenticeship system and established themselves as independent professional kanzashi tsumami makers in Japan.
Japanese traditions advocate adapting the type of kanzashi to the season. This is mainly true of geisha and maiko, who are the only Japanese women who wear kanzashi often enough for the seasonal patterns to be meaningful. Since maiko wear more elaborate hairstyles and kanzashi than geisha, seasonal arrangements are even more important to them.