Kanzashi are beautiful hair ornaments used in traditional Japanese hairstyles. Besides decorating the hair, they were believed to have been used as self-defense as well. Different kanzashi may also be worn on different months throughout the year.
The kanzashi was said to be first used in the Jomon period when a single rod or stick was used. Thin rods were believed to have mystical powers which were able to ward off evil spirits when placed into the hair.
Many cultural aspects and artistic styles were brought in from China including zan (the Chinese name for hairpins) and other hair ornaments which influence the style of the Japanese.
The Heian period marks the height of class and culture in the imperial court. During this period, hairstyles were long and tied back low instead of putting it up. Kanzashi started being used as a general term to mean any hair ornament including hairpins and combs.
Kanzashi was widely used during the Edo period due to the evolution of hairstyles which became larger and more complex. Artisans created more designs of the kanzashi in which some could be used as a weapon for self-defence. The latter part of the Edo period would be the height of kanzashi craftsmanship with the enormous variety of styles and designs being produced.
Today, the kanzashi is considered as traditional hair ornaments which are typically sported by professional kimono wearers such as geisha. The design or position of the kanzashi worn by the geisha reflects her rank.
Maiko, which is an apprentice geisha usually wear a more elaborate design of kanzashi in comparison to the geisha. The kanzashi is also worn by brides and in festivals and events like the Japanese tea ceremony and ikebana.
Tsumami kanzashi is classified as traditional Japanese handcraft and so, the making of kanzashi has now become a popular hobby in Japan.