Satsuma Tsugegushi or Satsuma Comb is a general term for the comb made from a Satsuma box tree.
Ibusuki region of Kagoshima Prefecture, having a climate with high temperatures and high humidity, is known to produce high quality box trees.
Satsuma box tree, which is extremely detailed and hard, produces a comb that is difficult to break. The tree also has a natural yellowish surface and beautiful gloss, and has been much valued.
The origin of the comb is said to date back to when samurai warriors from Satsuma clan first started making it when they came back from Edo (now Tokyo) after finishing the flood prevention works at Kiso River in the middle of Edo period.
Since that time, comb making became widespread as a side job for samurai warriors in the lower classes, and the comb became well-known nationally for its high quality.
In Ibusuki region, when a girl was born, a box tree was planted which grew up together with the girl. When she got married, a comb would be sent to take with her along with her other furniture.
As the comb is used to brush hair with camellia oil for a longer period of time and it ages, the light yellowish surface of the comb glosses further and more finely. In addition, it combs one’s hair very smoothly and feels soft and gentle to the scalp. Also, it doesn’t create static electricity. With these characteristics, Satsuma comb is a fine product that is still highly sought after.
Japanese boxwood combs are not simply tools for the coiffure but also hair ornaments for women. Combs have an ancient history in Japan. They are depicted on ancient clay tomb figures of the Jomon Period (up to 200 B.C.), and a boxwood comb is referred to in a poem in the Manyoshu. Boxwood combs became objects of luxury; some are beautifully carved and others are decorated with Makie (gold and silver sprinkling). They have been flattered women’s beauty all through the times.
Boxwood combs attract special attention in these days as effective hair care tools, for they don’t produce static electricity, they don’t cause split ends or hair breakage, and their strokes are smooth and gentle.
In Kyoto, the production of boxwood combs started in the Heian period (794-1192). Because softness and gentleness of boxwood are ideal not only to human scalps but also to many traditional handicraft materials, boxwood combs are used as tools for producing wide variety of craft products typical to Kyoto such as Tsuzure-ori (tapestry weaving) in Nishijin and Kyo-dolls.
Edo Bekko is a tortoiseshell handicraft made in Tokyo, applied to eyeglass frames, gold-lacquered objects and carvings.
Bekko has a long history: a biwa (Japanese lute) preserved in the Shoso-in imperial treasure house (dating to the C8th AD) features the shell of a hawksbill turtle. In the Edo period, more sophisticated gluing techniques led to more complicated effects using bekko.
Hawksbill turtle shell is the main material for Edo bekko, and is used to make a variety of stationery items and accessories.
Hawksbill turtles live in the vicinity of the equator and can measure up to 180 cm in length and 200 kg in weight after 50 or 60 years. The number of shells is always 13; the transparent part, which comprises only 10% of the shell, is treasured, the other parts, which are black, are called 'fu'.
Edo Bekko is a very valuable and graceful craft.
Kaizuka City, Osaka Pref. is said to be the oldest place where the making combs started in Japan. As legend goes, during the reign of the emperor Kinmei (the late 6th Century) a foreigner, who had drifted ashore of the present Kaizuka City, had 8 kinds of comb making tools and taught the local people how to make combs. It is said that in the middle of the Edo period there were more than 500 comb making craftsmen in the area around Kaizuka City. As Izumi comb is made of tsuge (boxwood), it causes less static electricity and less damage to hair, compared with the one made of plastic. The state-of-the-art product is made of Satsuma-tsuge (boxwood that grows in Kagoshima Pref.). Every teeth of Izumi comb is made smooth by hand. The longer you use it, the more attachment you have for its texture and hand feeling. You will comb your hair very smoothly with this comb of excellent workmanship.
Among the tribute that Ono no Imoko, an official envoy to the Sui court, brought back to Japan from Sui in 608 was an art object in which tortoiseshell was used. In Shosoin (the Imperial storehouse), there are also some tortoiseshell products brought into Japan in the same period. The technique of tortoiseshell work was introduced from China in the early Edo period. Later in the Genroku era (1688−1703), tortoiseshell began to be used to make accessories for high-ranked yujo (the prostitutes) and wives of daimyo (domain lords). With the flourish of Edo chonin bunka (culture of townspeople), a lot of tortoiseshell was used for personal items such as kanzashi (hair ornaments) or combs. Since then more complex techniques of carving, makie (gold and silver powder), and zogan (damascene) were developed. Tortoiseshell materials are made from the shell of the hawksbill turtle, the shell of which is up to 1m long. The shell is pressed flat and cut out into panels of appropriate sizes, then the panels are pasted together. At the present, Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagasaki are the three largest centers for tortoiseshell work. Osaka is known for fine carving techniques such as openwork and its main products are brooches and other accessories.
Oroku Comb is a beautiful comb made out of minebari or ono-ore-kanba (a kind of birch). This traditional handicraft has been handed down in Shinshu region since the Kyoho era (1716－1735) in the Edo period. One day a girl named Oroku, who had suffered from a headache all the time, visited to worship Mt. Ontakesan, she received a revelation that her headache would be cured if she combed her hair with a comb made of minebari. She went back home in Yabuharajuku and kept combing her hair every morning and night. Then to her surprise, her headache was completely cured. Thinking that she should share this benefit with other people suffering from the same pain, Oroku began to make combs and sell them. Oroku combs became popular among the travelers going along the Nakasendo Road, and came to be known all over the country as the specialty product of Yabuharajuku on the Kisoji Road. Minebari is very hard wood. It is sometimes called ono-ore-kanba (meaning birch which is so hard that even an ono (ax) is broken). Toughness of the wood is best suited for making durable combs. It is said that Oroku Combs can be used for three generations.