Kari Grohn's Home Page - Japan - Kushimatsuri





Kasha Matsuri
Yasui Kompira Shrinn, Kyoto (京都 安井金毘羅宮)

Kushi Matsuri (Comb Festival) at Yasui Konpiragu shrine honours the decorative combs used in traditional Japanese hair styling. Women in elaborate period costumes parade gracefully in the shrine precincts. 
Prior to the Edo period Japanese women wore long hair tied loosely in the back with a simple string. The flourishing economy in the Edo period brought out intricate hair styles with various binding and pinning techniques using hairpins, combs, bars and inserts. Hairpins (kanzashi) originated as Kazashi no hana, which were believed to magically endow a woman with the pureness and essence of flowers. A comb was much more than just styling hair. The hair ornaments expressed nearly every facet of a woman’s existence: her character, social class, and religion. The hairstyle could tell whether she was married or not and whether she had any children. According to an old Japanese proverb a woman’s hair is her life (Kami wa onna no inochi). The combs and pins were handed down from generation to generation. In Kyoto a broken and worn out comb was taken to a temple where prayers were said for its spirit, after which it was burned in a purifying ritual fire.
The elaborate hairstyles required a lot time and money to maintain. The hair ornaments often exceeded the cost of the gold brocade kimono. Kyoto-style combs (Kyogushi) were most famous. They were made by hand from boxwood (tsuge gushi). Mt Fuji’s chrysanthemum and cherry blossom decorations made them gorgeous. Luxury combs were made not only of wood or bamboo but also of valuable tortoise shell and ivory, decorated with gold, silver and coloured lacquers, precious metal inlays or mother-of-pearl. 

Combs were not given as gifts because the word kushi was associated with misfortune. Kushi sounds like the words for suffering (ku) and death (shi). At least the gift was accompanied by money to compensate the recipient for the bad luck she may receive with the comb. Hair ornaments could even be a deadly weapon. Female ninja (kunoishi) used them to rake the eyes of their victims and many women used them to fend off male attackers.

Yasui Konpiragu is popular with many young and middle-aged women who wish for breaking off a relationship between boy friend and his mistress. The shrine deity helps those who try for a divorce or separation (enkiri). Incidentally Yasui Konpiragu is located near the matchmaking (enmusubi) Jishu shrine.