Edo Tsumami Kanzashi is the National Designated Traditional Handcraft. It is mostly made in Tokyo and Chiba region today. It has been carried by refined skillful artisans with profound understandings of our language, culture, history, the beauty of Japanese seasons and nature, materials, and most importantly, the responsibility of carrying this art for the future generations by correctly succeeding the will from our ancestors.
The history of Kanzashi (ornamental hairpin) goes back as far as the history of Japan 3000 years ago. In the prehistorical Jomon era (approx. 1000 B.C. to 300 A.D.), it was believed that a supernatural power inhabited this thin stick. Wearing this stick as a charm against evil spirit became the origin of Kanzashi.
The derivation of then term "Kanzashi" is "“Kami-zashi”" meaning “hair stick”. People decorated their hair with flowers when they were inviting Deities. Another theory is “"Ka-zashi”" meaning “flower stick”.
It was during the Edo period (1603-1867) that current styles of Kanzashi had been formed. Among varieties of Kanzashi in this period, Edo Tsumami Kanzashi was made for mainly maidens to wear for occasional celebrations of the beauty of the seasons.
Today, Tsumami Kanzashi is worn by Maiko / Hangyoku, those young girls under the training to become a Geiko / Geisha. They add to the fun to banquet by dancing, singing, and playing Shamisen. In their custom, the seasonal Kanzashi is chosen based on the month. For example, they wear plum blossoms in February, cherry blossoms in April, and wisteria or iris in May. Tsumami Kanzashi is also worn for celebrating new years, coming-of-age ceremony, weddings, performing classical Japanese dance, and celebrating Shichi-Go-San", the celebration for children who are becoming the age of three, five, and seven.
Tsumami (pinching) is the technique to pinch / pick up a two dimensional piece of silk fabric to construct a three dimensional object. Tsumami consists of two types of method called Maru-Tsumami (round pinching) and Kaku / Ken-Tsumami (sword shaped pinching).These techniques were traditionally utilized by maidservants in the imperial court since the middle of the Edo period. Eventually, the style spread all over Japan. Tsumami Kanzashi was often depicted in Ukiyoe pictures.
Habutae silk, a plain woven silk has been traditionally used to make Tsumami Kanzashi.
In the Edo era, there were five major styles of Kanzashi: Hana-Kanzashi, Mimikaki-Kanzashi, Matsuba-Kanzashi, Tama-Kanzashi, and Hirauchi-Kanzashi.
Hana-Kanzashi was derived from a centuries old “Ka (flower) - zashi” flower stick, and was the most gorgeous style. Edo-Tsumami Kanzashi belonged to the Hana-Kanzashi category.
Mimikaki-Kanzashi was named after the ear pick. It was useful to scratch the itchy scalp after styling the hair.
Matsuba-Kanzashi was named after the falling pine noodle since the leg of the Kanzashi resembles it.
Tama-Kanzashi was basically the Mimikaki-Kanzashi with a ball, with either one or two legs. The Tama (ball) was made of coral, agate, gold, silver, ivory, and glass.
Hirauchi-Kanzashi was named after the word “hirauchi” which means “thin and flat” and was mainly made of silver. Their frames were shaped round, tortoiseshell, diamond, or flower. Additionally, they formed fretworks or curves of quite thin lines of a family crest or flower crest.
As the number of Japanese wearing Kimono decreased, the number of Tsumami Kanzashi artisans decreased as well. Today, there are only five acknowledged artisans in Japan. Kuniko Kanawa is the only one in the United States preserving this cultural heritage.