Combs, Kanzashi & other beautiful Jewelry for Hair

Combs, Kanzashi & other beautiful Jewelry for Hair
November 20, 2013 Robyn Buntin of Honolulu

Japanese Kanzashi Hair Jewelry

How Hair Ornaments Were Worn - from a woodblock print depicting Geisha by Utagawa Fusatane

How Hair Ornaments Were Worn – from a woodblock print depicting Geisha by Utagawa Fusatane

During the Edo period, Japan took the simple hair comb and transformed it into a work of art.  Japanese kushi (combs) and kanzashi (hairpins) became expressions of a woman’s personality, social class and marital status. The shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu banned foreigners from Japan, thus creating a 300-year period of peace and calm.  During this time, the arts flourished and the craftsmanship of kanzashi reached a high point.   Kanzashi were made from a variety of materials – wood, lacquer, tortoiseshell, horn, silk, gold, silver, glass, coral, and semi-precious stones, and came in many different shapes.

There are several basic kanzashi styles:

  • Bira-bira – also called Fluttering or Dangling style, these are composed of metal strips attached by rings to the body of the ornament so that they move independently, pleasantly tinkling (which is sometimes accentuated by additional bells) or long chains of silk flowers called shidare.
  • Kogai – A two piece kanzashi made of Bekko (tortoiseshell or artificial) or other materials such as ceramics or metals that feature a design on each end.Kogai is not only a reference to a hairpin but also to a metal rod or small sword-shaped dagger attached to a Japanese sword.  It may be reminiscent of this small sword-shaped marker also called kogai in the way in which it slid into the sword sheath.  The same way the hairpin does into its adjoining part.

Tortoise Shell Japanese Hair Comb

  • Tama Ball style kanzashi. These prong style kanzashi are decorated with only a simple colored bead on the end. Traditionally a red tama is worn from October–May and a green tama is worn from June–September.
  • Kushi are comb kanzashi. These are usually rounded or rectangular combs made of tortoiseshell or lacquered wood that are often inlaid with mother of pearl or gilding and placed into a mage (bun-style hairdo). The spine of the comb is often wide in order to allow maximum space for a design, and in many cases, the design will extend into the teeth.
  • Kanoko Dome – are heavily jeweled 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.
  • Ōgi – Also called Princess style, are metal, fan-shaped and kamon-imprinted kanzashi with aluminum streamers held in place by a long pin. These are usually worn by maiko in the hair just above the temple. New maiko wear two on the day of their debut (misedashi).
  • Tsumami Kanzashi – Literally, ‘folded fabric hair ornament’. Tsumami kanzashi are made from tiny (usually 1″) squares of silk which are folded into petals using origami techniques. Flowers are made from these folded fabric petals and may contain anywhere from five petals to 75 or more, depending on the particular flower made. A ‘hana kanzashi‘ is a cluster of these flowers, and may or may not include bira-bira and/or long streamers of tsumami petals. Traditionally, hana kanzashi are worn in pairs, one on either side of the head, often with a complementary kushi and/or with several individual flowers scattered about the hair.


These kanzashi are beautiful, tangible links to Japanese history, and gives us a glimpse into the fashion and social culture of times past.  Curious about other types of hair jewelry?  Click here to see Chinese Hair Pins & Ornaments!