History of Orihi type kamisori


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History of Orihi type kamisori
(Updated 2018Nov)

The kamisori (Japanese straight razor) or wa-kamisori came to Japan from China
with the introduction of Buddhism in the Asuka Era (552-645). (1)

They first were used in ceremonies for shaving the heads and faces
of Buddhist monks. In Japan’s middle ages they were used to shave the
heads (and faces) of the samurai. The Wa-Kamisori were considered
to be a sacred item and therefore commanded a high price. (2)

From: “Samurai, Cultured warriors of Japan”;

“By the 12th century, two major warrior clans — the Taira
and the Minamoto — stood poised to do battle with one
another for land and influence with the Imperial Court.
The resulting conflict, the Genpei War (1180 – 1185), ended with
a Minamoto victory and the establishment of the samurai class.

Battles followed strictly prescribed rituals.

The samurai was expected to present to the warlord the severed heads
of the samurai he had killed. In the same way that combat battles were
ritualized and formalized, so was this process called “head inspection.”

After the victory, the warlord would seat himself in some state
and the samurai who had done great exploits that day would bring
to him the heads of their victims for his inspection and approval.
The job that was traditionally done by the women of the warlord’s
family was to make the heads presentable with cosmetics. They
would apply makeup so that the head wouldn’t appear “dead”
and they would comb and dress the hair very precisely.

A little known fact is that after a head is severed, it continues
to grow facial hair;
therefore any subsequent beard growth
was shaved during 
the head cleaning.

(“holymtn.com/Japan/Samurai Link)

At certain times in history (Heian (794-1185) – Edo period (1603-1868)) men and woman
of higher rank practiced okimayu (置眉 or  おきまゆ), which was, among other things, shaving off the eyebrows with a razor and replacing them with fake ones that
were painted on higher up on the forehead. (3)

When the Meiji government prohibited carrying weapons (swords) in public
in 1876, the sword smiths put all their skills and knowledge into producing
high quality razors, knives,… (2,4)

When the Samurai era came to an end, the “modern” kamisori,
with more roundish shapes, a slightly hollowed grounded
“Omote” (side without markings) and a concave “Ura”
(side with markings) became popular (5)

(private collection)DSCN8578

The elder, first kamisori were named “Orihi type” or “Orihigata kamisori” (5)
The origin of the word “Orihi” is until today unknown, maybe it is derived from the words “Ori”, which means hold, and “Hi”, which means gutter in Japanese. (5)

They looked quite different!:

(private collection)








The “Omote” of these Orihi are almost flat (even if they aren’t used much),
the “Ura” consists out of 2 V-shape angled straight planes

(Update 2018Nov)

(private collection)
x7evwbpfconrs 1g kopie.x7evwbpfconrs 1b kopie.x7evwbpfconrs 1e
重芳作 (?) = Shigeyoshi saku (?), made by Shigeyoshi (?)

(Update 2018Nov)

古剃刀 日本剃刀 かみそり うぶけや 吉.png

うぶけや 吉 (?) = Ubukeya Yoshi (?)
Here’s a reference of a cutlery shop in Tokyo, うぶけや = Ubukeya,
founded in 天明3年 (1783) in Osaka, moving in the 1800’s to
長谷川町, Hasegawa, then to 人形町, Tokyo
I really don’t know if this has anything to do with this Orihi…


(private collection)DSCN8430

They also had “yasuri-me” (file marks on the “nakago”, tang) and a “mune-machi” (notch at the “mune”, spine), just like the ancient katana did

Their simple, straight appearance suggests that they were made a very long time ago.
These Orihi are the predecessors of the kamisori as we know today

However, it is difficult to find the right time frame when they were made…

It is said that they were made 200-300 years ago, or earlier…

They were made of Tamahagane, which is steel made from iron sand, which is the same steel that was used for the famous ancient katana or Samurai swords (2)

Nowadays, a Tamahagane razor is recognized by the stamp :


(private collection)







If this stamp isn’t present, it isn’t considered being a Tamahagane razor

As a remark we need to be cautious though:
It is known in the past that less quality products were stamped with
stolen original logo of very popular blacksmiths, in order to sell them easier

These practices are also well known in the Western cutlery
and razor history (Sheffield, Solingen,…)

In this extent, regrettably, we need to acknowledge that there possibly are
fake Tamahagane -, brand -, master -, trademark -,… stamps in circulation…

Of course, on very ancient razors, it is very likely that they didn’t stamp their razors with such a mark, since all razors were made by this steel, just as the ancient Japanese swords also were made of Tamahagane, and didn’t have a “Tamahagane stamp” either.

It was only in the more “modern” times that new kinds of steel saw daylight, which could made it necessary to distinguish real Tamahagane with the according stamp…

Allow me to elaborate:

In the Edo period, around 1600-1860, Japan was closed for trading,
which implies that steel was produced in their own country. For their
swords and high quality cutlery they used high quality steel and iron.
This would be Tamahagane, and their byproducts. Before this period
of national isolation, Japanese blacksmiths also used Japanese steel,
except for rare cases. 

Tamahagane does not necessarily mean it is always excellent quality steel.
During production of Tamahagane steel, this process gives high, as well as
quality of steel, so even though there is Tamahagane stamp present,
it does not mean that the product is of excellent quality.

In 1868, the Edo or “Samurai” era came to an end, by then Japan opened their
borders again for trading with other countries. From then they could import
other kinds of steel, for example “Swedish” and “England” steel, which implies
that the Japanese usage of “Swedish”, “England”,… steel happened after 1868.

Tamahagane became more and more expensive, no doubt because by then
it was used far less for swords, because of the “Haitōrei” of 1870 and 1876
which prohibited people from carrying weapons in public  

At the same time foreign steel and iron was cheaper,
easier to use, more uniform and less variable.

First, the smiths needed to learn how to forge this foreign steel. It beheld an
entire other process then making Tamahagane. They also wanted to make this
steel as close as possible to the quality of Tamahagane. It would take years,
maybe decades, by the time it became popular to use foreign steel.

Because of this, I thoroughly believe that the usage of stamps as
“Tamahagane”, “Swedish steel”, “England steel”,… began their
entrance only around the end of the 19th century.

Razors that were produced before that time,
were most probably made of Tamahagane.

It is even said that the word “tamahagane” itself was used only after the
Edo era.
 Tamahagane means “ball-steel”, named because of its usage
for cannonballs during
the Meiji era (1868-1912). The word “Tama” also means
round and precious 
in Japanese, “Hagane” means steel.

⇒ Either way, can we find evidence of how old these Orihi actually are?

The following data gives us proof that Orihi was undoubtedly used in and
before the 19th century, its usage goes back until the 17th century
(or even earlier)

With special thanks to Mr. Takeshi C. Aoki
(also for helping me enormously with this article),
I would like to begin with an article of a Japanese knife magazine where
an Orihi is seen, with a cover around the handle and around the shaving part
⇒ This is a feature which is very rarely seen.

This was originally not always done though, as is clearly seen
on following shown woodblock prints.

Courtesy of Mr. Takeshi C. Aoki and Mr. Machida Itsushi:
Scan0003 kopie

“The logo on the Japanese lacquer box is called “Kikuno Gomon”
which is used only by the Japanese emperor family,
no one else was allowed to use this logo.”
(Mr. Takeshi C. Aoki, “aframestokyo.com”  (5))

The same razor is also seen in a Polish book,
Japońskie noże” (“Japanese knives”), Henryk Socha – 2006


Mei: 東山住埋忠美平

Translated description aside to the picture:
“Beautifully framed razor, dating from the beginning of the Edo era (c. 1600)

Signature razor: Higashiyama jū Umetada Yoshihira
( = 東山住埋忠美平)

This razor is very rare, even in Japan, where there are a lot of ancient objects.
The handle and scabbard are made of wood, covered in black lacquer urushi,
with gilded decorations, made in the technique of maki-e.”

“Higashiyama jū Umetada Yoshihira”‘s ( = “Yoshihira, who lived in Higashiyama”)
“real” name was “Umetada Denzaburo” and was believed to be a student of
“Umetada Myoju”(埋忠明壽). “Umetada Denzaburo” is presumed to have died
in the 8th year of the Kan’ei era at 74y. (Kan’ei 8 = 1631), this is doubtful since
there exists work from him , dated from the Enpō era (1673-1681), and maybe
even a bit later… It is speculated that Umetada Denzaburo has learned sword
forging from “Shigeyoshi”, who was an adopted son of “Umetada Myoju”.

Either way, work from “Umetada Denzaburo”, or “Higashiyama jū Umetada Yoshihira”
is most probably dated from the “Kanbun” to the “Shōtoku” era (1661-1716)

With special thanks to “Scholten Japanese Art”

Six-panel screen, where “a barber shaves a man’s head”
and “a satisfied customer sits nearby admiring himself in a mirror.”

anonymous, school of Matabei
Kan’ei Era (1624-1644)
Okuni Kabuki (Female Kabuki)
Schermafbeelding 2016-05-31 om 21.17.22okuni10DSCN1407DSCN1407 kopie

Credit to:Scholten Japanese Art Link

Old Japanese woodblock prints (Ukiyo-e and Nishiki-e) also gives us
invaluable information
about when Orihi were used:
(pinterest.com/fikira12) Link

“Yamauba Shaving Kintaro’s Head”,
artist, “Utamaro Kitagawa” (1753-1806)
Made around 1795–1801 (6)


SC215179 kopie

(Notice the clearly visible Jigane (soft iron) and Hagane (hard steel) within the steel)

“Shaving a Boy’s Head”,
from the same artist: “Utamaro Kitagawa” (1753-1806); publisher: “Omiya Gonkuro”
Made around 1801 (7)

Schermafbeelding 2016-05-22 om 16.25.30

Schermafbeelding 2016-05-22 om 16.25.16


(Again, notice the clearly visible Jigane (soft iron) and Hagane (hard steel) within the steel)

“Shaving the Eyebrows, from the series Ten Types in the Physiognomic Study of Women”,
again, the same artist: “Utamaro Kitagawa ”
1802-03 (8)

Schermafbeelding 2016-05-23 om 22.17.36

Schermafbeelding 2016-05-23 om 22.17.36 kopie


“A Whetstone with a Razor, and an Envelope for a Present”,
Unidentified Artist
Date: 1811 (9)


“Shaving the Nape of the Neck”,
Artist: Utagawa Kunisada I (Toyokuni III) (1786–1864) (10) 
Made around 1823 

Schermafbeelding 2016-05-24 om 11.43.34





Notice the wooden box,
boxes like this can occasionally be found for sale, for example:







“aframestokyo.com”  (5)

“美人東海道 沼津宿 十三”


Schermafbeelding 2016-05-26 om 16.44.20


“Beauty shaving her forelock. Beauties reflected in mirrors”,
artist: Utagawa KUNIYOSHI (1797-1861)

Made c.1844

Schermafbeelding 2016-05-25 om 22.06.00

Schermafbeelding 2016-05-25 om 22.06.51


“Study of a young lady adjusting her obi on a pleasure boat”,
artist: Utagawa Kunisada (1786 – 1865)

1850 (11)



“A Woman Grooming”,
from the same artist: “Utagawa Kunisada” (1786-1865)


4f2da62aaa86346c9a33938fbc4e7907 kopie

(Also here is the Jigane (soft iron) and Hagane (hard steel) clearly shown)


“Robber Ishikawa Goemon Shaving”,
artist, Kuniyoshi (1797-1861)


Schermafbeelding 2016-05-23 om 21.36.25

Schermafbeelding 2016-05-23 om 21.34.02

Schermafbeelding 2016-05-23 om 21.34.02 kopie


 “Daikoku and Fukuroku; Shaving the Head with a Ladder”,
Artist: “Utagawa Kunisada” (歌川国貞) / “Toyokuni III” (三代豊国) 

Date: 1857 (12)

Daikoku and Fukuroku

Daikoku and Fukuroku kopie


1867 – 1869

1867-1869Barber’s shop, Japan, photographed between 1867 and 1869.


Japanese barbers Photo by Felix Beato, 18681868 Japanische Barbiere, Photo von Felix Beato1868 Japanische Barbiere, Photo von Felix Beato kopie
(Thank you Rockabillyhelge!)

Other references claim this to be dated 1863-1868
1863-1868 Japanische Barbiere, Felix Beato.png

“Mustache shaving, opposite mirrors, laughing child, crying child” ,
artist: Kobayashi Kiyochika,

1883  (13)

Schermafbeelding 2016-05-23 om 21.55.03

Schermafbeelding 2016-05-23 om 21.55.03 kopie


These woodblock prints let us see that the use of Orihi was well known at the end of the 18th century, through to mid-end 19th century

Orihi were also kept as a set of 3 in typical wooden boxes, accompanied
with a Japanese natural waterstone, and even a tomo nagura!

(private collection)







The kanji (symbols, markings) on the box,


means “kamisori hako”, or box for kamisori

I haven’t figured out yet what the meaning is of the other symbols…

I’ve found another Orihi with the same markings,
which also has the mark ふぢや = Fujiya:
Fujiya 1aFujiya 1b

Its meaning is still unknown to me…

I’m not sure, but I think there is an evolution in the shape of the Orihi – kamisori,
as seen below (from “oldest” to “newer”), it could very well be that the order is wrong…:

Fujiya 1aFujiya 1b
1 Orihi 3f kopie
1 Orihi 3i kopie 1 Orihi 3e kopie

DSCN0332 kopieDSCN0358 kopie

After this, even younger, we’ll get the kamisori we know today…

The future will give us hopefully more information,

so that we can discover even more about its fascinating history…

Other information of Orihi (this article is a further elaboration of the thread on SRP):

⇒ straightrazorplace.com Link


(1) www.kamisoriclub.co.jp Link

(2) themorningflight.com/gadgets/about-my-vintage-wa-kamisori-traditional-japanese-razor-seriously-sharp Link
(3) www.printsofjapan.com/Index_Glossary_Kesa_thru_Kodansha Link
(4) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haitōrei_Edict Link
(5) With special thanks to Mr. Takeshi C. Aoki, aframestokyo.com Link
(6) “Yamauba Shaving Kintaro’s Head” 山姥と金太郎 かみそり,
artist, “Utamaro Kitagawa” (1753-1806)
Made in Edo period, around 1795–1801 (Kansei 7–Kyôwa 1),
http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/yamauba-shaving-kintaros-head-214968 Link
(7) “Shaving a Boy’s Head”,
artist: “Utamaro Kitagawa” (1753-1806); publisher: “Omiya Gonkuro” Date: c. 1801 Link 
Credit Line: Collection Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Bequest of Richard P. Gale
Institution: Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Beginning around 1797, Utamaro designed several prints of everyday life that often include images of children. These are often intimate scenes that convey the maternal tenderness of women towards their children. In this print, Utamaro illustrates a frazzled young couple making the most of their young son’s nap by shaving his head
(8) “Shaving the Eyebrows”,
from the series Ten Types in the Physiognomic Study of Women”,
artist:Kitagawa Utamaro
data.ukiyo-e.org/mfa/images/sc156312.jpg Link
(9) “A Whetstone with a Razor, and an Envelope for a Present”,
Unidentified Artist, Date: 1811
(Credit Line: H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929
Accession Number: JP2206)
Institution: www.metmuseum.org

http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/53972 Link
(10) “Shaving the Nape of the Neck”,
from the series Modern Eastern Brocade Prints (Tôsei Azuma nishiki-e),
「当世あつまにしき絵」 襟剃り
Woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper
Artist Utagawa Kunisada I (Toyokuni III) (Japanese, 1786–1864),
Publisher Azumaya Daisuke (Kinshûdô) (Japanese), Edo period, about 1823 (Bunsei 6)
Credit Line: Nellie Parney Carter Collection—Bequest of Nellie Parney Carter
http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/shaving-the-nape-of-the-neck-from-the-series-modern-eastern-brocade-prints-tôsei-azuma-nishiki-e-246596 Link
(11) “White. Study of a young lady adjusting her obi on a pleasure boat“,
From the series “Itsukinu Iro no Somewake” (Five Colours of Silk),  1850,
artist: Utagawa Kunisada (1786 – 1865)
(Japanese: 歌川 国貞, also known as Utagawa Toyokuni III 三代歌川豊国 ) Link
(12) “Daikoku and Fukuroku (12a); Shaving the Head with a Ladder”
(Gohō hashigo-zuri – ごほふはしごずり):
Artist: Utagawa Kunisada (歌川国貞) / Toyokuni III (三代豊国)1857
woodblockprints.org/index.php/Detail/Object/Show/object_id/1242# Link
Related links: Museum of Fine Arts, BostonWaseda University
Bandō Mitsugorō VI (六代目坂東三津五郎) as Daikoku (大こく) and Nakamura Fukusuke I as Fukuroku from the series Dance of the Ōtsu-e Figures (Ōtsu-e shosa no uchi – 大津絵所作ノ内)
Medium: Japanese woodblock print
(12a) darumasan.blogspot.be/2005_01_01_archive  Link
Fukuroku is the personification of the southern polar star. Taoist deity from China. Gives wealth, long life and good career. Came in the Edo period instead of Kichijooten (12b) to the seven gods of good fortune.
(12b) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lakshmi Link
Goddess Kishijoten of Japan corresponds to Lakshmi. Kishijoten is the goddess of beauty, fortune, and prosperity.[61] Kishijoten is considered the sister of the deity Bishamon (毘沙門, also known as Tamon or Bishamon-ten); Bishamon protects human life, fights evil, and brings good fortune. In ancient and medieval Japan, Kishijoten was the goddess worshiped for luck and prosperity, particularly on behalf of children. Kishijoten was also the guardian goddess of Geishas. While Bishamon and Kishijoten are found in ancient Chinese and Japanese Buddhist literature, their roots have been traced to deities in Hinduism.[61]
[61] Charles Russell Coulter and Patricia Turner (2013), Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities, Taylor and Francis, ISBN 9781135963903, page 102
(13) Mustache shaving, opposite mirrors, laughing child, crying child”
from the series “One Hundred Faces: Supplement to Thirty-Two Faces”,
artist: Kobayashi Kiyochika, 1883
Japanese Color Woodblock Print
Source: Kiyochika: Artist of Meiji Japan, Henry D. Smith II, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1988, p. 60-61.
One of twenty-five prints created by Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847-1915), each showing four faces in caricature.  The first eight prints were issued in 1882  and published by Hara Taneaki under the series title Thirty-Two Faces, New Edition.  The series was so popular that it led to a second series in early 1883 titled One Hundred Faces: Supplement to Thirty-Two Faces (Sanjūni sō tsuika hyakumensō), some of which were published by Hara, the remainder by Morimoto Junzaburo.
http://www.myjapanesehanga.com Link
This entry was posted in 1)Japanese Razors, Orihi type kamisori. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to History of Orihi type kamisori

  1. Pingback: Shaving soap - Snaefell Soaps

  2. Rene Sommer says:

    What a great and very detailed article. Will help me to find a good Kamisori. Thank you very much!


  3. Pingback: Stones | Fikira

  4. Pingback: Razors | Fikira

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