Kanzashi: A Japanese Hair Ornament

What is a Kanzashi?

The kanzashi is a traditional hair accessory which is worn by women when in their traditional attire, the kimono. It is used to complete the overall look and appeal of the traditional outfit. For the Japanese women, the hair is an elaborate part of the body. It is only just that it is adorned and ornamented with items that will make it even more majestic.

Kanzashi in history

Interestingly in history, the kanzashi was introduced as a powerful magical item that is used to protect a person from bad spirits. It was turned into a thin stick so that people can easily carry it with them or wear it on their hair. However, it was only due to the influence of the Chinese that this item of protection was turned into an item of fashion. The Chinese had turned the ordinary kanzashi into a hair ornament as they influenced hair styles and fashion. It was also during this time that the wooden comb was introduced to the Japanese culture.

As modernization started to affect the fashion of women in Japan, the use of the kanzashi further varied and the use of the kanzashi became rarer. It has been turned from ordinary hair ornament to a hair piece worn only by traditional brides. Also, it had become a unique hair ornament worn by what is called as professional kimono wearers. These are the maiko and the geisha.

For these professionals, the kanzashi is an indication of position and status. It is said that the geisha wears less elaborate but more elegant pieces of kanzashi. The maiko, or geisha in training, wear more colorful and numerous pieces.

The Kanzashi is such an important piece of Japanese history that in the 1980s, it has been considered as an important artistic profession. The tsumami kanzashi artists require about five years minimum and ten years maximum of professional training. Through the years, with the power of platforms such as the internet, younger generations of Japanese turned it from an art to a hobby.

Kanzashi Hair Stick

The Kanzashi hair stick was the original way of wearing the Kanzashi in Japan. It was most popular during the Jomon period and was worn more as a talisman than a fashion statement. During this time, the designs were less elaborate and more symbolic. Some women wear thin rods on their hair made from different metals such as gold and silver. Eventually, this has turned into more interesting designs such as dull-bladed swords and knives.

Kanzashi Ribbon Flowers

Nowadays, the trend of wearing kanzashi flowers have evolved. Young Japanese girls have started to wear these items on their hair but not as elaborately as traditional wearers would do. These are usually worn as a small hair clip or ribbon filled with flowers with tiny petals. Also interesting is the fact that even professionals wear hair clips and kanzashi ribbons to work. It is their small way of bringing back traditional hair styles.

Types of Kanzashi styles

There are different kinds of Kanzashi shapes and styles which have ornamented women’s hair in Japan through the centuries. Although it is not a part of the modern fashion and get-up, the kanzashi is still an integral element in traditional style. In most people’s perception, the Kanzashi is made up of flowers but this is just one side of the spectrum. There are numerous styles and designs that could vary due to use, occasion or even season. Here are some examples of the traditional kanzashi:


Also known as the Hana kanzashi style, this is the most common image of a traditional Japanese hair ornament. The name came from the word hana which means flower in the Japanese language. This particular ornamentation is very common in the get-up and fashion of geisha and maiko.

A normal Hana kanzashi is made up of a cluster of flowers which is designed to look as if they are dangling from the wearer’s hair. Sometimes, they are worn as if a collection of flowers was scattered all over one’s hair. There are also cases when these flowers are bunched together to create bouquets.

Often times than not, kanzashi flowers are made from tiny squares of silk which is folded a number of times until they become tiny petals. This particular method of creating kanzashi flowers is called the tsumami – a method used to fold and pinch tiny pieces of cloth to become tiny petals with the aid of a tweezer.


This particular style of the kanzashi does not necessarily involve flowers, but they are very common hair ornaments which are worn by Japanese women through time. The bira-bira is a dangling designed hair ornament where tiny strips of metal are placed onto rings. These are then attached to a flat ornamentation and often shaped like a fan to give a stylish look.

Since the ornamentation is dangling from the fan and stuck to the hair, these will move along with the wearer’s every movement. It also comes with a tinkling sound which is also often accentuated with tiny bells. These kinds of hair ornamentation are commonly worn for fancy events and occasions, especially for geisha and maiko. These are very commonly worn as well by brides during their wedding day – a bell sounds for prosperity and happiness.

Kogai & Kushi

The kogai and Kushi are also a very common hair ornament worn by Japanese women. On the other hand, this particular kind of hair ornament is common as well for ordinary women because of its simplicity. The kogai is made up of a long pin with fattened and flattened ends. It is said that this represents a sword and its sheath. The kogai will not be complete with the Kushi, which is a rounded comb. The spine of the comb is usually designed with intricate art like painted flowers and the like. These are also often made from wood which is painted with lacquer and adorned with pearls. These kinds of hair ornaments are often placed on a bun-styled hairdo.  


This kanzashi style is similar to the bira-bira. It is designed with a fan-shaped metal which is held in place by a long pin as well. It is said that it is a tradition for young maiko to wear this as a sign that they are yet to be transformed into a geisha. They normally wear two pieces during their debut.

Kanoko dome

This particular style of the kanzashi may be the fanciest out of all. It is designed with jewels, gold, tortoise shells and more. They are also often seen to be designed with oriental accessories such as jades, pearls, corals. It is often worn by the junior maiko during very festive and fancy occasions.


The tama may be the simplest out of all. Unlike all other kanzashi styles, this particular kind has the least ornamentation. It is made with a long pin or prong that has a small and simple bead at the end. The colors usually represent the season.

Where to find Kanzashi for Sale?

For those who really wish to purchase kanzashi, most kimono stores sell these items. This is because of the fact that it is considered as an important element in traditional clothing. There are kanzashi of different styles which are for sale. The most common is the Hana kanzashi and the bira-bira – both of which are intricate and elegant pieces of accessory.

Most girls consider the Kanzashi as a vintage style of clothing and fashion. Because of this, the item could be bought in a lot of vintage stores. There are different styles and sizes that could be made to fit everyday clothing. These are much less expensive than those being sold in kimono stores because they are made with less precious metals and gems.

On the other hand, those who are looking for price, unique, and elegant kanzashi could opt to go hunting in antique stores. These are places to find well-kept and age-old kanzashi items. Most of these are collectible since they are handmade and are from centuries prior. On top of that, most of these are quite expensive.

How to make Kanzashi (DIY) – Modern Hairstyle

Kanzashi Flower Tutorial

The concept of folding fabric to create petals is very similar to creating origami. The difference is that the kanzashi deals with much smaller sized shapes and uses fabric instead of paper.

A small piece of fabric usually a size of 10cm squares are cut from different colors and textures of fabric. Most commonly used of all are satin and silk. For beginners, it is advisable to use larger squares so it will be easier to cut and fold the fabric.

The first thing to do is to fold the square diagonally, creating a triangle. Hold this in place using a tweezer or a hairpin. Fold the two edges to the center to create a diamond. Choose two edges of the diamond and fold it opposite the direction of the first fold so that the edges are meeting but not overlapping. Fold the entire piece in half, right down the middle. The shape should look similar to a folded paper boat. Sew the edges together in counts of five to eight petals.

Kanzashi flower maker

There are no specific devices which are used to create a kanzashi petal or kanzashi leaf. Most often than not these are handmade and sewn by hand. However, all kanzashi flowers are made with the help of a sharp tipped tweezer, an alligator clip, or a hair pin. Since the petals are so tiny, the use of these small and simple devices could help in holding together the fold especially when folding more than one petal or leaf at a time.

Kanzashi flowers by Season

Most geisha and maiko wear Hana kanzashi by season. They change the style and color of their hair accessory depending on which flower blooms at a particular time of the year.

During the New Year holidays, normal ornaments are bamboo blooms and pine. The colors red, green, white are most popular during this time of the year and these colors signify the celebratory mood during the month of January. During the month of February, young love is the popular theme which is why the colors of pink and red are very on the spot. Popular flowers are plum.

By Photo of Kanawa Kuniko 金輪久仁子の写真 (Kanawa Kuniko http://www.atelierkanawa.com/) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

An interesting twist during the month of March, instead of flowers some people use tiny dolls to signify and celebrate the Hina Matsuri or Little Girls’ day in Japan. During the months of May and April, the most common are sakura blooms. However, there are unique designs that feature wisteria and irises of the color blue and pink, both flowers are important symbols of nobility.

For the rainy months of June and July, incorporating willow is a popular choice. Also popular are fans which represent summertime in Japan. There is also some kanzashi that use dragonflies and butterflies which are quite common during these months.

August and September months are summer months and thus shall feature summer flowers. These include morning glory, bellflowers and bush clovers. During the month of October, the royal flower (chrysanthemum) is used. During the November months, reds, yellows, and oranges are also popular. Maples and gingko are interesting additions to the kanzashi. The December month is one of the most interesting, there is some kanzashi that feature rice-cake flowers which are called mochibana. White mochi flowers are very common at this time of the year. Another popular theme during December would be bamboo leaves which are a wish of prosperity and good luck for the coming year.

Kanzashi outside of hair: Kanzashi Sarashiki

One popular anime character which is named after the famous hair ornament is Kanzashi Sarashiki of Infinite Stratos. Although she does not have any special magical powers, she is well known for her very vast knowledge of things. On the other hand, there is no specific connection between the popular hair ornament and this character.