Asia is probably the continent with the richest culture all over the world. Any reference to Asia by the Westerners marks it as a continent where superstition rules and mysticism is alive. Asians regard this in the positive way, with their belief of the gods. There are varying religions in Asia that make it a convergence of cultures that contribute to its rich history. Such is the history of Japan! So let’s take a look inside the one prominent commonality, that is the presence and significance of jewelry in Japan and its cultural traditions.
From as early as 1000 (BCE) until the 6th century, Japanese jewelry primarily consisted of comma-shaped objects which were not usually more than an inch in length, carved initially of green jade and eventually of glass. Called magatama,
these beads or pendants were sometimes pierced to be strung in a necklace. The symbolic meaning of the magatama, which were often placed in tombs, can only be guessed at. Similar beads also were popular in Korea from the 3rd to the 6th century.
In historical times, traditional Japanese costume, male and female, has never allowed the use of ornaments of precious metal or stone, so that nothing in the history of Japanese craft and taste corresponds to the jeweler’s work of the West. Hairpins with elaborate heads were increasingly used in the Tokugawa (Edo) period (1603–1868) by women of the geisha and courtesan classes but not by women of other classes. In the same period men were permitted the ostentation of the inrō,
a small tiered box for tobacco, medicines, confections, and the like, which might be beautifully painted in lacquer and inlaid with mother-of-pearl or precious metal, often in strikingly naturalistic designs. The ivory girdle toggle called ‘netsuke’,
always delicately and often intriguingly carved, was the only other personal ornament that usage allowed.