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Japan museum showcases history of decorative hair accessories


    The “Natorigawa no Kushi” comb, which was made from valuable bogwood.


    The upper stream of the Tamagawa river is seen through a museum window.


    Visitors look at kanzashi hair sticks at the Kushi-Kanzashi Museum in Ome, Tokyo.

Tokyo >> Standing inconspicuously along the Tamagawa river in the shadow of the mountains of Tokyo’s Okutama area, the Kushi-Kanzashi Museum houses an extensive collection of Japanese hair accessories from the olden times.

The collection features combs that women used to do their hair up in Japanese style, kanzashi hair sticks used as decoration and other hair accessories.

The museum, with more than 5,000 accessories made from the Edo period (1603-1867) through the Showa era (1926-1989), is operated by Ozawa Shuzo Co., which is known for its Sawanoi sake brand in Ome, western Tokyo.

About 3,000 pieces were from the collection of former geigi entertainer and collector Chiyo Okazaki (1924-1999), who spent more than 40 years accumulating the items.

“In the Edo period, when there were not many accessories, combs and kanzashi were luxury items,” said Tokuro Ozawa, 62, the second-generation director of the museum.

Okazaki was forced to sell her collection amid an economic recession, and Tokuro’s father, Tsuneo, 91, who had been enamored by the hair accessories, bought the entire lot to keep it from being scattered and lost. He opened the museum in April 1998.

Many of the combs were made with the artistic maki-e lacquer technique, depicting plum flowers, butterflies, water birds and other motifs.

One such comb depicts a graceful heron in the maki-e technique by the master artist Ogata Korin (1658-1716). This was the only comb Korin made in his life. Korin is said to have presented the comb to the wife of a distinguished family that had taken care of him.

The “Natorigawa no Kushi” comb was made in the Edo period from zelkova wood, which came from bogwood found in the bed of the Natorigawa river in Miyagi Prefecture.

As bogwood was highly valued at the time, the wood was given as a gift to the Date family, who were the Sendai feudal lords. Dating tests showed that the wood was from a tree that lived about 4,000 years ago.

Many of the kanzashi worn by brides are depicted with a bird cage motif. There is also a kanzashi with the design of the kanji character “kokoro” (mind) together with a lock. The concept was to prevent a bride from becoming attracted to another man.

The museum’s collection also includes many donated items. Ozawa said children and grandchildren bring combs and kanzashi to the museum that had been treasured by a deceased relative.

There has been an increase in the number of foreign tourists visiting the Okutama area who also take in the museum.

“I’m glad if (foreign visitors) can feel the depth and profoundness of Japanese culture through the combs and kanzashi,” the director said.

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