Kogai (Traditional Hairpin accessory) (笄)

The 'Kogai' (Traditional Hairpin accessory) is decorative hairdressing implement used for lifting hair into a bun shape. It has its origins in China.

It was also used by women as an accessory to scratch their heads when itch so their hairdos were not ruined.

In Japan, it was referred to as one of the 'three essential items' that were accessories to a traditional Japanese (short) sword and, was often carried along with a sword.

To make combing easy, the combs generally had two long prongs which reached the scalp much like a rod (or prongs in a clover leaf configuration).

Kogai hairpins in a rod like configuration were called 'bo-kogai' (rod hairpins) of which the best quality units were made of the shin bone of a crane and therefore, due to the supposed ability to ward off headache were also preferred by individuals with refined taste.

A wide array of raw materials were used: tortoiseshell, metal, wood, ivory, hoof (cow and horse) etc.

Above all else, mother of pearl, metallic lacquers and engraved hairpins etc given as gifts were extremely expensive.

Various Kogai Hairpins

Japanese traditional hairstyles cannot do without the 'Kushi' (comb), the 'Kanzashi' (ornate hairpin accessory) and the 'Kogai' (hairpin) and, amongst these three items, the Kogai hairpin proudly follows on from the historical origins of the comb.

Similar in shape, Kogai hairpins are often confused with Kanzashi ornamental hairpins; however, their respective roots hail from different quarters.

Because Kogai hairpins are worn in the base of hairdos, only one is used and, sometimes dispensed with entirely depending on the hairdo. Originally, Kogai hairpins were a practical item used to secure the topknot of a hairdo however, with the onset of more complex hairstyles in the late Edo period their usefulness diminished and, became much like an ornamental accessory. Such hairpins are known as 'nakaware-kogai' which could be disassembled into two parts. After a hairdo was almost made up, a hairpin was inserted into the complete hairdo simply as an ornament. Rod shaped hairpins are also known as 'nobe-bo' (bar hairpains).

Dictionaries of the Edo period differentiated between Kogai hairpins and Kanzashi ornamental hairpins: 'Kanzashi ornamental hairpins' were also used for removing wax from the ears and, those not used for that purpose were 'Kogai hairpins.'