An enlargement of one page from the Harunobu book "Seiro Bijin Awase"
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In the story that accompanied the previous print, I wrote, “I had fun carving and printing this one, as the techniques are of course very different from the usual ukiyo-e style of work.“ Well, this time, the tables are turned and I can write, “I had fun carving and printing this one, because this classical ukiyo-e style really is the heart and soul of traditional Japanese printmaking, and I can’t get enough of it!“
The image you see here is a ‘close-up’ based on a design by Suzuki Harunobu. The original appears in a famous illustrated book series he created showing young women posed in scenes depicting their daily life: writing a letter, playing with a pet, making a flower arrangement, or just simply doing their hair, as in this example.
The kanzashi ornaments we see in her hairdo seem to have had their origin in pre-modern times as small rods that were considered to have mystical powers, and which were thus worn in the hair to ward off evil spirits. (The idea of a rod with mystical powers may sound a bit far-fetched, but Harry Potter may not find it so strange!) From that early stage they developed over time into actual tools with real practical application, being used to help shape and control various hair styles.
It is also claimed that some of the ornaments were intended for use as defensive weapons for the women who wore them, and some of the kanzashi do indeed look very dangerous!
There use has of course declined in modern times and most women will now only use a kanzashi when having their hair done in traditional style for a wedding ceremony. But it is hard to think of any other fashion accessory that is so distinctly Japanese as this!
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