Home » Memory Suitcase » Memory Suitcase: What a Japanese Hairpin has Taught Me

Memory Suitcase: What a Japanese Hairpin has Taught Me

A very special gift.

A very special gift (private: photo)

A handcrafted hairpin from Japan together with a note of a dear friend have changed the perception of everyday items and their meaning for Varenka from Belgium. Read the friends’ note and learn more about Japanese handcraft in the latest memory suitcase.


I know hairpins are not as popular in Europe as in Japan, so you do not have to feel guilty if you do not wear it constantly. But when you put it away, then put it away as a valuable object. An object produced by Japan, a whole other world, and brought to your world. The bodkin is made out of lacquered wood, typical Japanese craftwork; the pendant was made in the tradition of ‘yosegi-zaiku’ parquetry, combining the natural colours of different trees. But this jewel also gives notion of my idea of culture: it unites skill, tradition, simplicity and elegance, nature, beautiful deep black and fresh colours. Hopefully it pleases you and may you cherish it for a long time.


I removed the paper to find a small, elegant, dark-green box. Because of the box, I immediately knew the present would please me. Presents that come in boxes like this one are certainly not mass-produced, ugly, I’m-sprayed-in-a-colour-but-I-will-lose-the-colour-within-a-week kind of presents. The beautiful dark-green colour and how the box and the paper were put together shined out some kind of love to me. A love for what is inside the box, and to me associated with the love of my friend who had just returned from Japan. Then I read the note, and I became even more certain that the present would not disappoint me. Eventually seeing the hairpin, I knew that I would do exactly what the note said it hoped for: cherish it for a long time.

This Japanese hairpin has a great meaning to me for various reasons. First of all, it is associated with one of my closest friends who carefully searched for a gift while being on the other side of the globe. The object itself is to me some sort of representation of what my friend finds important – the little list of: skill, tradition, simplicity and elegance. It is his idea of what is beautiful in this world, and it is irrevocably bound to his personality.

But it is also the beautiful Japanese handcraft that made me choose this object. This hairpin is now a subtle hint of Japan in Europe, hinting to the future and the past. The classy black pin and quite simplistic outlines of the hairpin in general make the hairpin look fresh and modern. It refers to the future: because of its timeless appearance it will still look fresh and modern over a hundred years. At the same time, it looks back. A roughly two hundred years old Japanese parquetry tradition is what made this single hair accessory possible.

When I look at this present lying on top of my Ikea desk, I think about how the desk may be very useful, but cannot compete with this small wooden octagon in which eight different old trees have left their colour. It is a piece of another world, and it is a unique piece as well, causing it to be of great value to me.

Being so used to an environment where influences from all over the world are present everywhere, I forgot about how special that is. I forgot how it is only a very recent normality to have something from the other side of the world lying in front of you. I also forgot how it became quite an abnormality in my life to have something in front of me that is not a mass-produced object, but a hand-made one.

When my friend gave me this hairpin, he certainly gave me something to cherish for a long time.