By Miriam Slater:
The Japanese over the centuries have distinguished themselves by their cultivation of humor, fine design and poetry within their art. In fact, these qualities are what originally attracted me to kanzashi. As an artist I found myself entranced by the variety of expression within these beautifully crafted pieces.
Metaphors and symbols are commonly seen in Japanese hair ornaments. For example, in the top image, a silver hair ornament depicts a clamshell, a symbol that can also suggest a woman in the Floating World. When opened up, to the viewer’s surprise, in the shell is a small gold crab, pinchers ready!
The second ornament (of a similar theme) features a closed clamshell and a knife used to pry open clams. The clam’s moveable parts will open to reveal the prize within, a pearl. Symbolic objects are frequently seen on kanzashi which enhance the expression and meaning of each piece. The tortoise comb with a fishing rod can be seen as a metaphor for flirting and courtship with its implied hooking and the reeling in of one’s “catch”.
The crow, a common bird that is noisy and known for its bad manners, graces a red lacquer hair comb as an elegant adornment for a woman of position and beauty. The juxtaposition of what is considered ugly played with utmost beauty reflects the poetic side of the Japanese culture. So, to thoroughly enjoy and understand kanzashi, it really helps to see them not only as finely crafted functional objects, but also as works of art imbued with more subtle meanings.