Jewelry such as earrings, necklaces, rings and bracelets common in many other cultures were not traditionally worn by Japanese women or men. The primary method of displaying one's status and wealth in Japan was through the quality and expense of the cloth one wore as well as the tailoring of the clothing. Nonetheless, Japanese men and women did wear certain resplendent accessories that can be considered jewelry, items that were highlighted through images of beauties (bijin) that included both men and women. Beauties were popular subjects in painting, sculpture and mass-produced woodblock prints.
During the Edo Period (1615-1848) strict sumptuary laws codified what levels of society-artistocrat (daimyo), samurai, merchant, laborer among others-were allowed to wear certain items. For men, only samurai could carry double swords. Most men and women, even those who were members of lower ranks, were permitted to wear "hanging things" (sagemono) including pipes (kiseru), pipe covers (kiseru zutsu) and tobacco puches (tabako ire), as well as small cases (inro) suspended on cords with a sliding bead (ojime) attached to a toggle (netsuke). Tucked into a waist sash (obi), these "hanging things" became lavish ornaments that express the wearer's wealth and taste. Women wore beautiful hair pins and combs to secure elaborate hairstyles. Wealthy women changed their hair ornaments with the seasons, so their decoration reflect seasonal shifts. Such variations in jewelry and clothing were particularly important to geisha and other professional entertainers whose livelihoods depended on their physical image.
Japanese ornaments are mostly made from ivory, tortoise shell, mother-of-pearl, lacquer, gold, silver and a range of highly worked metal-alloys that have distinct warm and cool colors, such as akagane (red-pickled-copper), shakudo (blue-black copper-gold) and shibuichi (silver-grey silver-copper). The majority of these materials are found within Japan or just off its shores, with the exception of ivory which was imported from Southeast Asia.