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History of Orihi type kamisori
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.“
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 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)
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!:
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
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 :
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
lower 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)
(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 was originally not always done though, as is clearly seen
on following shown woodblock prints.
“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
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” Link,
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)
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:
“Yamauba Shaving Kintaro’s Head”,
artist, “Utamaro Kitagawa” (1753-1806)
Made around 1795–1801 (6)
(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)
(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 ”
“A Whetstone with a Razor, and an Envelope for a Present”,
Date: 1811 (9)
“Shaving the Nape of the Neck”,
Artist: Utagawa Kunisada I (Toyokuni III) (1786–1864) (10)
Made around 1823
Notice the wooden box,
boxes like this can occasionally be found for sale, for example:
“美人東海道 沼津宿 十三”
“Beauty shaving her forelock. Beauties reflected in mirrors”,
artist: Utagawa KUNIYOSHI (1797-1861)
“Study of a young lady adjusting her obi on a pleasure boat”,
artist: Utagawa Kunisada (1786 – 1865)
“A Woman Grooming”,
from the same artist: “Utagawa Kunisada” (1786-1865)
(Also here is the Jigane (soft iron) and Hagane (hard steel) clearly shown)
“Robber Ishikawa Goemon Shaving”,
artist, Kuniyoshi (1797-1861)
“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)
“Mustache shaving, opposite mirrors, laughing child, crying child” ,
artist: Kobayashi Kiyochika,
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!
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:
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…:
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