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[Kimono Style] Tsumami Kanzashi Bringing New Beauty to the World of Hair Decorations

Whether as simple flowers or whole scenes, like other kimono accessories, tsumami kanzashi express the seasons through their florals and sometimes animals too.

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tsumami kanzashi
Tsumami kanzashi ornament made by self-taught craftswoman Veronica Piccolo. (© Sheila Cliffe)

Tsumami kanzashi are decorations for hair that are made with pinched pieces of silk fabric. They have been produced for over 200 years. 

Originally having something long and thin poked through one's hair was supposed to ward off evil, so there are many different types of pins and hair decorations in Japan. Moreover, many different materials were used to make them. 

tsumami kanzashi
Author Sheila Cliffe wears a tsumami kanzashi hair ornament of striking blue in contrast to her pastel kimono. (© Sheila Cliffe)

What Are Tsumami Kanzashi? 

These hair ornaments can be seen in the elegant hairstyles of maiko (young geisha). They are also seen on children dressing up for their shichi-go-san, a ceremony to celebrate the health of children at ages seven, five, and three. 

Produced individually by sticking together small pieces of silk, they can be fairly simple flowers or can be whole scenes or bouquets. Just as other kimono accessories do, they express the seasons through their florals and sometimes animals too. 

Tsumami kanzashi
Hikosaburo Oda creation
Tsumami kanzashi
Created by Hikosaburo Oda

What types of Tsumami Kanzashi are there? 

Tsumami zaiku is craft, including kanzashi, which are produced with small cut up squares of silk. These are pinched in various ways to make different shapes, and held together with rice paste. They are then put on wires to hold them in place. 

The maru tsumami pinch makes a round shape suitable for plum blossoms, the kaku tsumami pinch makes a sharp angled or square used for hydrangeas and other flowers, and a uragaeshi tsumami pinch is when the petal is reversed inside out. This is used for wisteria petals. 

The exacting work is done with tweezers. And after pasting to a board, they are assembled onto the pin with silk thread or sometimes small felt backing pieces. 

Tsumami kanzashi
Created by Hikosaburo Oda
tsumami kanzashi
Created by Veronica Piccolo

Self Taught Crafters Bringing the Art to Life

I spoke with two tsumami zaiku makers, one in Japan and one in Italy. 

Hikosaburo Oda lives in Fukagawa in the downtown area of Tokyo because she loves old Edo culture, especially samurai TV dramas. She likes to watch them and sometimes notice places around Fukagawa that have been in the dramas. 

She started to wear kimono, especially the kind of designs that would have been worn by ordinary people in the Edo period, and particularly checks. Then Oda thought that she would like some hair accessories to go with her kimono. 

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But when she looked at the tsumami kanzashi available for sale, she found that they were perfectly suitable for maiko. Or for children for shichi-go-san. They were all very cute, and not suitable at all for a mature woman. 

Tsumami kanzashi
Hikosaburo Oda is making silk hair accessories. (© Sheila Cliffe)

Hikosaburo Oda: Making Accessories for Mature Women 

Oda wanted to find something she could wear but she couldn't. Then, one day she went to a tsumami kanzashi show by a teacher called Hozumi sensei. She bought a kanzashi there and took it home to study how it was made. 

She eventually taught herself how to make tsumami kanzashi by studying this piece. First, in 2004 she started making them. By 2008, however, she was selling them. About the same time she also started a blog about tsumami kanzashi.

Oda doesn't just want to make kanzashi that are cute. She wants to make something different from the items that are already available, so there are some things that she is very particular about. All her fabric is dyed by a craftsman in Niigata. 

Moreover, she has introduced black into kanzashi, which has been avoided in the past as a color considered unsuitable for celebrations. She has also made kanzashi completely in white, rather than layering the colors. 

Tsumami kanzashi
By Hikosaburo Oda
Tsumami kanzashi
By Hikosaburo Oda

Most tsumami kanzashi are made with soft organza silk, but Oda uses a variety of fabrics. Some of them are difficult to fold, such as obi fabric and also different kimono fabrics. 

She gives each flower petal three layers, whereas two layers were common before. She also attaches a long tassel to the tsumami kanzashi in the Edo style, inspired by one of her favorite ukiyo-e prints. Her small kanzashi of different flowers can be used as earrings or rings. 

In 2018 Oda gave up her full-time job to concentrate on producing tsumami kanzashi. Now she has a small studio in Kagurazaka, a fashionable area of Shinjuku, full of boutiques and restaurants. She frequently sells her works at pop-up events in various department stores. 

tsumami kanzashi
By Veronica Piccolo
tsumami kanzashi
By Veronica Piccolo

Veronica Piccolo: Pop Culture Beginnings 

Veronica Piccolo studied art and manga in high school. It was through this she became interested in Japanese aesthetics and crafts. 

She was bored with her photorealistic artworks. Buying herself a kimono, she wanted to have some tsumami kanzashi so she could create a sort of geisha look. 

She had no alternative but to make them herself although she had no teacher. In university, when a friend went to Japan she asked her to bring her some tsumami kanzashi parts, but the friend could not find them. Instead she bought her a book. Veronica could not read the book, but she learned through the pictures. 

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tsumami kanzashi
The author is showing the process of making tsumami kanzashi.
tsumami kanzashi
The drawing shows the detailed planning that goes into creating tsumami kanzashi.

She said that she is a patient person, so this kind of fine, exacting work is not a problem for her. She has been making tsumami zaiku crafts, not only kanzashi, for over seven years now. 

Veronica finally found some lessons she could take earlier in 2023. They were online lessons with the International Tsumami Zaiku Association. Watch a video on this topic.

In the lessons, she learned some fine points that she needed to understand to become a teacher. Now she needs only to take her final exam. 

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Author: Sheila Cliffe

Find other columns on kimono by author Sheila Cliffe here on JAPAN Forward.