One of the most intriguing things I found at the Museum of the City of New York was a Japanese hair accessory for young women. It was silk and dyed using kanoko-shibori (鹿の子絞り), a set of tie-dye methods used in Japan since the 14th century. According to Curator Phyllis Magidson, this particular piece at the Museum is said to be from the early 1810s. I wanted to find out more about this piece, so I conducted research on it. I also promised Phyllis and Assistant Curator Grace Hernandez that I will write about this piece once I gather some information on it. Below are my findings.
First of all, I had to show an image of this piece to my mother, a kimono enthusiast. She told me that it must have had brighter color when it was made and it seems to have lost its color. Though many Japanese young people of today like chic and neutral colors, bright colors represented youth, wealth, and health in Japan back then. Most of the traditional ceremonial Japanese hair accessories are still dyed in bright colors today.
This particular piece is definitely one of the rare, interesting Japanese hair pieces that have survived to date. I’m not sure if the style of this particular piece was ordinary in Japan at the time in the 1810s, but it’s very different in comparison to today’s hair accessories of similar kinds. There are two reasons why this piece is so special and distinguished from today’s hair accessories.
First, I wasn’t sure if this piece was chinkoro or kanoko. Chinkoro is a hair accessory for the top of forehead, and kanoko is used on the back of the head. (You may notice here that kanoko is also found in the name of the tie-dye method mentioned earlier.) Today’s chinkoro is a small and narrow head piece that often comes with fringes at the ends. Kanoko is a bigger, wider piece without fringes at the ends. This specific piece at the Museum has the size of kanoko, which is wider and larger than chinkoro, and has fringes seen particularly in chinkoro.
Examples of how chinkoro and kanoko are worn today. Source: Pinterest
Chinkoro and kanoko are often sold as a set.
Sometimes chinkoro without fringes are available, but kanoko with fringes are very rare. Whether this piece at the Museum was worn as chinkoro with a large bow above one’s forehead or as kanoko on the back of the head with fringes, it must have been a statement piece in 1810. Or it could have been a trendy style of the particular time. I will need to do the research to find out more about this.
However, this piece at the Museum has a unique tie-dying method. When you look very closely at this piece from the Museum, you will see that each peak has stripe patterns. This means that the peak was tied numerously while keeping the thread apart from the nearby thread.
The type of tie-dye method used for this piece may be one of kanoko-shibori methods, but which kanoko-shibori methods could it be? The closest method used for this piece may be kumo-shibori (蜘蛛絞). Kumo-shibori has striped pattern like this piece, resembling kumo-no-ito, or spider’s web. Now, kumo-shibori also has several different branches of methods within itself.** Kumo-shibori may be the closest method used for the piece at the Museum, though none of the kumo-shibori samples I found looks quite the same. I wonder if anyone who makes something like this still exists, and if anything like this is still made today. I would be happy to conduct further research if an opportunity arises.
Kyo Bitta Shibori Cooperative Association http://www.kyokanoko-shibori.or.jp/feature.html (Japanese)
Narumi Shibori Cooperative Association http://narumishibori.jp/history (Japanese) **
Arimatsu Narumi Tie-dying Museum https://shibori-kaikan.com/en/tie-dyeing (English)