The more modern boxwood beads shown here have a wonderful history & heritage -- as summarized below. Of course it is true that over the past couple of decades, beads falsely called "Ojime" have been cranked out in factories in China--most often from boxwood. These are NOT true Ojime. They are Chinese beads, made for commercial export. And, the models for these beads are often not traditional Ojime, but rather are sometimes netsuke (a different part of an Inro Japanese box ensemble--the toggle described below). Further, the beads are not "hand-carved" -- they are carved using machinery.
But I do love the true 'Ojime bead history', and I think it's worth a mention here, even if many of us will not be able to acquire the real thing.
True Ojime beads were used as cord fasteners since as early as the 16th century in Japan. These historical beads were handcrafted from fine metals, ivory, precious stones, jade, lacquer, tortoise shell, glass, coral, bone, stag antler, boar tooth and tusk, nuts and seeds, as well as other natural materials. The beads were used in conjunction with a box called an inro, used for carrying small personal items. Because the traditional Kimono had no pockets, this box was worn to hold small personal items. I find this to be a lovely and entrancing tradition!
The Inro, made up of two to seven layers, was a box used for carrying small personal items such as the "Hanko" or personal seal, medicinal herbs, and acupuncture needles. Japanese men and women would wear this compartmentalised box hung on a braided double cord below the Obi, a wide silk Kimono belt. At the top of the cord, a large carved bead called a Netsuke (pronounced nets-kay) acted as a toggle to anchor the Inro, with the cord then passing under the Obi. The smaller Ojime then served as a sliding closure both to secure the lid of the Inro and to stop it turning. By sliding it upwards, as required, it also allowed access to each individual level of the Inro. Below we show both the Inro and a few samples of vintage Ojime beads.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy our previous post on Ancient Beads!
Until Next Time,