Kanzashi: An Overview of a Maiko’s Seasonal Hair Ornaments

  • Maiko is an apprentice geiko (similar to a geisha) in Kyoto. They wear elaborate hair ornaments (kanzashi) in different months called kisetsubana. The motif (decorative design) of the month depends on the flowers and events that occur in that month.



    Some of the classic patterns include plum, bamboo, and pine which are the Three Friends of Winter (shochikubai). Sometimes, crane motifs are used.



    The main flower design is plum blossom or ume. This is because the month of February is when the winter ends and plum blossom is the first flower that blossoms through the snow. During this month, the plum blossom festival (Baikasai) is celebrated to observe these flowers. In addition, the setsubun festival is held where the maiko would sport unique hairstyles and kanzashi. Another less popular motif for February is the pinwheel.



    Among the common flowers are canola (Rape blossoms or yellow field mustards), peach blossoms, narcissus, and peonies. Sometimes tiny butterfly motifs are used which represent a hope for early spring.



    The main flower for this is the cherry blossoms or sakura, which is the national flower of Japan! In this month, viewing the sakura flowers is a cultural thing to do in Japan. Another popular motif is silver or gold butterflies made of mizuhiki cords.



    Wisteria and flag irises of the blue variety are the common motifs in May. Small silver butterflies design may also appear in May.



    June is a rainy season which brings the weeping willows and hydrangeas as classic choices.



    This is the month for fans, be it the uchiwa or the dancing fans which refer to the Gion festival which will be held at Gion, Kyoto.



    Pampas grass which appears as a starburst of spines and the purple morning glory are the kanzashis for this month.



    The signature kanzashi in September is the bellflower which is among the 7 flowers of autumn in Man’yoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves).



    The vibrant chrysanthemum is not only a symbol of autumn but also the imperial family.



    The autumn leaves are the classic motif in November. Maple viewing is a cultural trend in November.



    Since the Japanese make mochi in this month, it is thought to be auspicious to wear mochibana kanzashi (rice cake flowers). Another important theme is the maneki tags.

    Which month displays your favorite kanzashi? The kanzashi is traditionally handmade. Perhaps those with good sewing skills can attempt to make some kanzashi on their own!

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    The Life of a Maiko: An Apprentice Geisha