Long, luxurious black hair has been the premier distinction of feminine beauty in Japan for centuries. Japanese hair ornaments reflect the culmination of a remarkable history of increasingly elaborate modes of adorning women’s coiffures. From an early anthology of court poetry, Collection for Ten Thousand Generations, the verb “Kazasu” was used to mean, “to ornament the hair with flowers.” Thus, the prototypes of combs and hairpins (“Kazashi”) can be traced back to aristocratic women in the Nara Era (710 – 793) when combs were used for both combing and decorating hair. It was in the Momoyama Era (1573 – 1614), widely described as the Golden Age of Decorative Arts, that a revival of tied hairstyles was accompanied by the production of very elaborate hair ornaments. Throughout the following Edo Era (1615 – 1867), women used combs and pins of a wide variety of materials and decorated in every imaginable way. At first hair ornaments were luxury items affordable only by ladies of the nobility, affluent townswomen or high-ranking courtesans. By the Meiji Restoration in 1868, hair ornaments of every variety were available to women of all social classes.
This elaborate set of hair ornaments displays a full blooming Peony (“Botan”) in the center top of the Comb (“Kushi”), and both the Comb and the Hairpin (“Kougai”) exhibit an unopened blossom amidst the scattered petals. The Peony, its’ leaves, and its petals are made of Mother of Pearl, in pastels ranging from white to the palest of blues and pinks. These exquisite decorations sit on the black lacquer of the hair ornaments. The Peony was introduced to Japan from China in the Nara period (accounting for its first appearance in the decorative arts), for its medicinal properties. In a design context, the Peony first gained prominence in Japanese scrolling patterns, and its original use was that of the imaginary “Hosoge” flower. The Peony is typically placed in the center of floral arrangements, as it was called the “ sovereign of flowers” because its lush blossoms suggested abundance. The Peony ranked almost as high as the chrysanthemum and hollyhock in prestige. Because of this, the Daimyo class, or Lords, sought to gain status by arranging marriages with noble families bearing this crest. Its luxuriant beauty and positive connotation garnered great popularity. It was also believed to project feminine energy. One of the most outstanding examples of this flower, as decoration, appears on the dais for the Buddha’s image at Kenciho-ji Temple in Kamakura.
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