Kuniko Kanawa comes from a long line of makers — her great-grandfather was a kimono pattern dye artisan, her grandfather was a ranma (an openwork screen above the sliding partitions between two rooms) wood carving artisan, and both of her grandmothers were kimono tailors. Kunkio strives to reintroduce the disappearing culture of Japan to a new audience.
The history of kanzashi — or ornamental hairpins — goes back nearly 3000 years. In the prehistorical era (1000 B.C. to 300 A.D.), it was believed that a supernatural power inhabited the kanzashi, protecting the wearer against evil spirits.
Tsumami is the technique of pinching a two-dimensional piece of silk fabric to construct a three-dimensional object. Tsumami consists of two types of methods called maru-tsumami (round pinching) and kaku/ken-tsumami (sword-shaped pinching). These techniques were traditionally utilized by maidservants in the imperial courts of Japan. Eventually, the style spread all over the country, and tsumami kanzashi came to refer to an ornamental hairpin made through the pinching technique.
Tsumami Kanzashi for April by Kuniko Kanawa
Today, tsumami kanzashi is worn by maiko, the young girls who are training to become geiko (also known as a geisha). In their custom, kanzashi are seasonal and customized based on the month. For example, they wear plum blossoms in February, cherry blossoms in April, and wisteria or iris in May. Tsumami kanzashi is also worn for celebrating the new year, coming-of-age ceremonies, weddings, and performing classical Japanese dance.
Kanzashi of July by Kuniko Kanawa, displayed at the Japanese American National Museum
From February 2010 to January 2011, my tsumami kanzashi will be displayed in the store of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. The display will change every month based on flowers blooming in Japan. If you are in the area, please visit to see my work in person!
Tsumami kanzashi is a nationally designated traditional handcraft, passed down through generations of refined skillful artisans with a profound understanding of our language, culture, history, materials and the beauty of Japanese seasons and nature. Most importantly, I believe it is my responsibility to carry this art for future generations, and make my ancestors proud.
For more about Tsumami kanzashi, maiko and other Japanese cultural history, check out Kuniko's website.