An old Japanese saying in Japanese goes that ‘‘beautiful hair can make any woman beautiful’. Dark, luscious hair is one of Japan’s beauty ideals, which has been around for many years.
A comb as old as 7000 years old (Jomon period 14,000 – 300 BC) has been discovered by archaeologists, along with paintings of bamboo combs on tomb figures from that time, suggesting hair care has been important since a long time ago.
Traditionally, it is believed that every string of hair carries spiritual energy, making brushing an important ritual. Due to this appreciation for hair and hair care, high-quality brushes have become a true artwork in Japan.
Tsuge is a boxwood tree native to Ibusuki, the tip of Southern Japanese island Kyushu. Traditionally, in this region families would plant a boxwood tree whenever a girl was born. The tree would grow alongside her and by the time she got married, they would create a comb and furniture for her new house from the same tree. Once every twenty years, boxwood combs from all over Japan are send to the ‘Ise shrine’ in Japan, where they are ritually burned as a sacrifice to sun goddess Amaterasu and to thank them for their service.
Tsuge boxwood was traditionally also used for imperial seals, musical instruments and shogi (Japanese chess) pieces, but is now mostly used to craft these luxurious combs for enthusiast all over the world.
Boxwood is a rare wood type and nowadays often imported due to its high costs. However, in Kyushu, the original trees are still used for traditional crafts. Around 660 B.C., foreign merchants introduced the art of comb making to Japan. Based on different hair types and material available in Japan’s rich nature, they developed their own comb craft style. Tsuge combs are individually hand-carved and one piece of wood makes a single comb. These types of combs were used by Samurai to manage their topknots, and are still used by Sumo wrestlers, whose hair is an important part of their appearance, and by Geisha for their complicated hair- and wig art.
Growing up in a world of plastic and disposable items, spending your days crafting hand-made item that takes many years to complete it a rather unique phenomenon.
The family of the Ando Comb Atelier, using the best boxwood from Oita and have passed on their special techniques from generation to generation.
The combs untangle, volumize, reduces frizz without becoming static, and most of all, work ‘with’ your hair instead of against it.
The wooden teeth furthermore provide relaxation, revitalization and reduce fatigue due to their sturdiness and ability to reach Shiatsu -acupressure- massage points on your head.
Boxwood is naturally oily, so the combs made from it are resistant to splitting and create almost no static against hair or breakage. Especially brushes made in the Kyushu/Oita region of Japan are believed to easily comb through your hair, leave it shiny and have the very best long-term effects due to its materials made from Kyushu’s superior natural resources.
Brushing with a Tsuge brush stimulates your scalp and distributes the natural oils evenly throughout, creating a unique, relaxing treatment each time you use it. It is especially recommended to treat and avoid dry or unhealthy hair. To enhance and maintain the brush even better, you should soak the comb overnight in camellia oil once every three months.
Applying some of this oil to the brush before using will leave your hair nourished and shiny.
Boxwood is easily shaped, very hard to break and great when polished. It is easy to paint and develops distinct colors as it ages. Many boxwood combs in Japan nowadays are made from imported, weaker wood due to the price and limited availability of domestic boxwood, but traditional, high-quality workshops still plant their own trees in Southern Japan. A tree is ready after about 30 years, when it has reached a diameter of 22 centimeters. The wood then is cut in wedges and fumigated with smoke from its own sawdust for about 10 years to ensure it is dry and hard enough to last forever without breaking. When the wood is fully processed, traditional Japanese saws and files are used to craft the entire brush by hand.
The beauty and functionality of each comb can only be attained by crafting it by hand. This requires great skill and technique as the teeth need to be perfectly straight and smooth in order to be gentle to the hair, without damaging it.