Japanese Court Caps (日本の冠)

Japanese Court caps are headgear for Court nobles and adult samurai to wear when they visit the Imperial Palace. Court caps were generally made from black ra (thin silk) covered with lacquer, but there were also metal caps called reikan which were worn at the Sokui no Rei (Ceremony of the Enthronement) and the Choga no Gi (ceremony held on the New Year's Day).

Until the early modern times, coming-of-age ceremony meant a ceremony of Kamurigi (literally, "wearing a cap") in Japan, and a young man made a topknot and put a cap on his head at this ceremony. The Chinese character of '冠' used in the term 'kankonsosai' (the ceremonies of coming of age, marriage, burial, and ancestral worship), written as 冠婚葬祭 in Japanese, represents this Kamurigi ceremony.

A person who put a cap on a young man's head at this ceremony was his guardian called 'kanmuri-oya' (literally, "cap parent"), and during the early-modern times, an emperor's kanmuri-oya was selected from the heads of Gosekke (five top Fujiwara families whose members were eligible for the positions of Sessho [regency] and Kanpaku [chancellor]).

History

It is unclear when the custom of Japanese Court caps began, but it is confirmed that people already used kanbo (cap-shaped crowns) made of metals such as gold, silver, and gilt bronze in the Kofun (tumulus) period. These have been discovered from tumuli in various places such as Fujinoki Tumulus.

The Kan I Junikai (a system of twelve court ranks instituted in Japan), which was established in 603, was the first system in which ranks were officially linked with caps. According to the 'Tenjukoku Shucho' (embroidery representing Tenjukoku paradise), which is said to have been made under the direction of the wife of Prince Shotoku, Court caps used in those days were something like a silk cap. Cap's color was decided depending on a person's official rank and was selected from six colors such as red, blue, black, and purple, and additionally, each color was also divided into light color and dark color.

It is said that the direct origin of Japanese Court caps was a headgear called 'tokin' (hood), which was a part of chofuku (clothes worn by the nobility when attending Court), and this headgear is seen in the Ibuku Ryo (Garment Code) of the Yoro Ritsuryo Code.

Tokin was bag-shaped headgear made from black silk, and a total of four strings were attached to its front and back. A person put this on his head after covering his topknot with a koji, a black-lacquered cylinder-shaped part made of paulownia wood.

Front side strings tied up on the head were called ageo (literally, "upper strings"), and back side strings tied on the back of the head were called ei (crown strings).

A koji and the main part of a Court cap were separated at that time, and ei strings were used only to fix the main part.

Subsequently, ageo became merely a decoration and ei gradually became longer, and eventually, koji was integrated into the main part. But only at coming-of-age ceremony called Kamurigi, 'hanachi-koji,' a headgear which consisted of separate body and koji and be fixed with strings in wearing, were used.

During the period called the age of regency in the middle of the Heian period, the shape of Court caps gradually became almost as the same as modern-day Court caps. However, according to some materials such as Makura no Soshi (The Pillow Book), Court caps in those days were thinly lacquered soft caps, and they easily lost their shapes due to rain and so on.

Ageo became a decoration which was simply hung on the bottom of a koji, and traditional Japanese paper called sasagami (paper made of bamboo grass) was stuck on the back in order to show the traces of ageo. As ei was replaced by a decoration of swallow-tailed ra, a kanzashi (ornamental hairpin) was inserted into the bottom of koji so that it went through a topknot to fix it.

During the regime of cloistered government in the end of the Heian period, Court caps were thickly lacquered so they would not lose their shapes, and ei was separated from the main part and it was put in etsubo (a pocket for ei attached to the back of the main part) to be fixed.

As the Onin War dragged the whole Kyoto into the war, Japanese Court culture became disordered, and they lost the technique of umonra (ra woven in a pattern), which was used for Court caps for the nobilities whose ranks were the Fifth Rank or higher. Until recently, embroidered plain ra had been used instead of umonra since then.

In the Edo period, average amount of hair reduced because people got the front part of their heads shaved, and they could not use kanzashi to fix a Court cap any more. Consequently, kanzashi became merely a decoration bar and strings called kakeo began to be used to fix a Court cap.

Strings called kobineri, which were made from traditional Japanese paper, were official kakeo, but kumikake (strings made from twine) were also used informally only when Imperial sanction was given, and this kumikake type was developed by the Asukai family, who was well known for kemari (a game played by aristocrats in the Heian period).

The position of the root part of ei tended to become higher in and after the end of the Heian period. Court caps called Goryuei (literally, "standing ei"), whose ei did not hang down but stood on the head, finally appeared during this period, and this type of Court caps are still used by the current Emperor. The size of Court caps became smaller, and usubitai (a cap whose front and side parts were thin) which was directly put on a head became popular.

Since the Meiji period, type of the caps had changed to the one which could cover the head because people got their hair cut. Larger atsubitai(a cap whose front and side parts were thicker) caps which were the same type as used in the Heian period were revived.

Structure

A Court cap roughly consists of three parts: the main part which covers the head, a koji where a topknot is kept, and a long strip of thin cloth called ei which hangs down to the back.

More specifically, a Court cap consists of the following parts: hitai which refers to the upper part of the main part put on the head, tamaberi which refers to the brim of the main part (the front and the side of the brim are called iso, and the rear part is called umi), koji, etsubo which refers to the pocket in which an ei is inserted, esode which is also inserted in an etsubo, and ei.

A Court cap also has some accessories such as a string called ageo which is placed around the bottom of a koji, a kanzashi which is inserted into a topknot to fix it, and sort of ear covers made of horsehair tied up in fan-shape with strings called oikake (also known as koyurugi) which are used by military officers. People also attach fresh flowers or artificial flowers, called kazashi to ageo at some ceremonies.

Classification of Court Caps

Shapes of Japanese Court caps have had no remarkable differences between ages or ranks since the middle of the Heian period.

However, materials and finishes of a hitai and an ei represent a person's rank or age; for example, material called yotsubishimon is used for those who are at the Fifth Rank or higher.

kenei (rolled ei)
Court caps for military officers were called keneikan (literally, "rolling ei cap"), and their ei were rolled up inward and fastened with an ebasami, a black lacquered wood piece with a cut. Jigejin, those who were not allowed to access to the Court, also wore Court caps with saiei (narrow ei) rolled up inward.

There was also an accessory specially for military officers called oikake, a fan-shaped decoration made by tying up horsehair like a brush, but its purpose of use is still unknown.
(Some people think an oikake represents spreaded strings that were tied up into a bundle, or oikake were used by soldiers who had lived in the northern China, but both were uncertain.)

An oikake had a string and it helped a Court cap to be fixed in order not to fall from the head.

Suiei (hanging ei)
An emperor and civil officers used Court caps called suieikan, whose ei hung down to the back.

However, in case of emergency such as a fire at the Imperial Palace, both military officers and civil officers fixed ei with a piece of plain wood which was made by tearing off a fan of cypress, and they called this kashiwabasami (it is said they rolled up ei outward or they just folded the ei).

It is said that civil officers also wore keneikan during ryoan (Court mourning of close relatives of an emperor), but there is a possibility that it is confounded with kashiwabasami.

"Kashiwa" of the term "kashiwabawami," written as 柏 in Japanese, represents plain wood (written as 白木 in Japanese) with one Chinese character (because the character 柏 can be divided into two parts: 木 and 白), and this has nothing to do with kashiwa (oak), a type of trees.

Goryuei
Since the Edo period, successive emperors have used Court caps called goryuei (literally, "standing ei"), whose ei stands on the head.

Unique pattern of one of Gosekke which served as a kanmuri-oya was used, but the 16-petal chrysanthemum crest has been always used since the reign of Emperor Taisho.

Atsubitai and Usubitai
Court caps which have tall iso (the part from the front to the side of a cap's main part) are called atsubitai, and Court caps which have short iso are called usubitai. Originally, only people at daijin (minister) or higher positions were allowed to use atsubitai, but after the end of the Heian period, the role of atsubitai had changed and they became caps simply for elder people.

Atsubitai was also known as toobitai, but after the end of the Heian period, the term "toobitai" began to represent a Court cap which had a half-moon or crescent-shaped hole on the top of a usubitai covered by ra or silk gauze.

Special Styles

Generally, retired emperors, princes, and male nobles wore Court caps at official occasions and eboshi (formal headwear for Court nobles) at private occasions, with matching Heian costumes respectively. On the other hand, an emperor always wore his Court cap throughout his reign.

As his long ei might bother him while in ritual ceremonies or at meals, the ei was folded in some special manners.

Okin-koji
This is a Court cap whose koji and ei were fixed together with a clip called koji-gami which was made with gold foil-covered, two-ply danshi (fine crepe paper) with a square hole on its center.

This was used mainly at meals, and this is still sometimes used by the present Imperial family.

Onsaku no Kanmuri
This is a Court cap with no crest which is worn by an emperor at significant ritual ceremonies, with its ei folding over on his head to fix it together with koji with a band of white silk.

It is said that this style imitated a headband that a priest used at ritual ceremonies in ancient Japan.