[From April Issue 2011]
Japanese Hairpin Artistry, ARAKAWA Toshio
ARAKAWA Toshio runs Hanakobo, an ornamental hairpin and hair accessory manufacturing and sales company located in Tokyo’s Adachi Ward. These are Japanese-style accessories all hand made by Arakawa himself, that are worn by young girls and women in kimono on such occasions as the Seven-Five-Three Festival celebrating children’s growth, the coming-of-age ceremony and for school graduations, as well as weddings and Japanese dance recitals.
From the age of 18 Arakawa studied accessory design for two years at a technical college, and after graduating, he trained at his father’s studio. “Technically, I was training there, but my father didn’t really teach me anything, so I learned the skills by closely watching and copying the way he did it,” he recalls. Going independent in 1992, Arakawa began to work with hairpins and hair accessories made of plastic materials.
While expensive materials such as ivory and tortoiseshell are often used for hairpins, Arakawa uses plastic, which is easier to obtain and helps reduce each item’s retail price. He thinks that “the most important thing is to establish the trade as a business and continue to grow it, rather than merely pursuing artistic beauty.” “Although acrylic and acetate are both plastic, their wholesale prices are different and one is easier to process than the other,” explains Arakawa, who chooses different types of plastic depending on the item’s design and its production budget.
“Basically, my works features the beauty of nature throughout the seasons, such as chrysanthemums in autumn or snow in winter,” explains Arakawa, who draws all the designs himself. He mostly deals with other businesses and the distributed items are then sold at kimono stores, beauty parlors and variety shops. Arakawa, who sometimes get requests to create items for foreign brands, says, “I design the items so that they can also match Western-style clothing. That’s why they are also so well received by young people who don’t wear kimono.”
In recent years, he has also unexpectedly expanded his “business overseas.” “When my niece studied in Britain, she took my hairpins as souvenirs for local people and they liked them more than expected,” he recounts. “Then, on my nephew’s recommendation, I started showing my work for some years at an exhibition in Los Angeles where traditional Japanese culture was being introduced and that led to our items being sold in the Singapore Changi International Airport.”
Furthermore, last September special hairpins commemorating the 35th anniversary of the birth of Hello Kitty, a world-famous, original Japanese character, started to sell. “When I was asked to incorporate Hello Kitty into my traditional craft, I tried to create a design which would appeal to people from a wider age group, a design most suitable for a character loved by all generations,” he says.
Arakawa’s plan is simple. “I would like to take advantage of this opportunity to actively spread the charm of my handmade hairpins and hair accessories overseas,” he says. “More and more individuals are buying our items over the Internet, so I would like to further enhance our product line and services.” Presently, Arakawa is hard at work creating new hairpins and hair accessories that feature seasonal plum and cherry blossoms.