Genbee Yamaguchi is one of the most respected kimono makers. In 1981, he became the head of “Kondaya”, a long-established wholesale store of obi sashes that was founded in Kyoto in 1738. As the tenth head of Kondaya, he devoted himself to advancing obi making. His recent works, however, have been more involved in designing and making the whole kimono. He also takes an active role in revitalizing the dyeing and weaving technologies through such measures as the revival of Koishimaru - a specific type of silk worm cocoon found in Japan and the preservation of a unique village in the Philippines called “Dreamweaver”. In 2003, Yamaguchi received the Japan Culture Award. After successful collaborations with Kengo Sumi, an architect, and Hiroko Koshino, a designer, he released a new kimono line called Kabukimonotachi-no-keifu, in collaboration with UNITED ARROWS, a specialty retailer. It is an exciting and bold kimono collection for men.
Kabukimonotachi-no-keifu is inspired by the men of the Momoyam period (approximately 1568 to 1603) who loved to live a wild and flamboyant life-style. Japanese men in those days were respected as the toughest of the world. Kabukimono is expressive of that type of man who pursued an extraordinary and “cool” life style. The fashion of Kabukimonotachi-no-keifu evokes masculinity and the true “rock and roll” spirit of the time.
“If you keep on pursuing the basics, there will be a moment when you will suddenly see limitlessness revealed to you, as once Zeami (the greatest playwright of the Noh theater) said. Mastering the basics is the shortest road to freedom”
The vital life force and sexiness in Yamaguchi’s designs come from the inner depth of his creative process.
Tokamachi Akashi crepe is a traditional handicraft handed down in Toka-machi, Niigata Prefecture. This elegant fabric is suitable for a summer kimono due to its distinctive thinness and lightness like the wings of a cicada.
The weaving technique of Akashi crepe dates back to around the end of the 19th century, when a crape wholesale merchant brought back a sample roll of crepe cloth to Tokamachi from Nishijin in Kyoto. He asked a local textile worker to create a new type of crepe fabric here in Tokamachi by studying the sample and adapting an existing local weave called Tokamachi sukiya (silk crepe).
A great deal of effort was made to make an improvement in the ways of tightly twisting up threads, resulting in creating sukiya chirimen, which was named Akashi Chijimi, or Akashi Crepe. Even after that, several improvements such as waterproof finish were added to the product. Tokamachi Akashi crepes dominated the market with annual production of 200,000 rolls of fabric in the early Showa period (1926-1989).
Thread made of raw silk and dupion are used. In order to give the cloth its distinctive crepe effect, the weft is coated with starch and then put on a twisting machine and tightly twisted. Finally, the crepe effect is produced by rubbing the cloth in warm water, which produces its original winkling called “shibo (wave-shaped winkling).” Because of this winkling, the cloth does not stick to the skin and keeps you feeling cool. The climatic conditions of the town; the heavy snowfall, high humidity and little strong wind and the zest of local weaving workers have produced this elegant crepe fabric.
With its picturesque quality and its scientific technique, Yuzen dyeing is an art form unique to Japan.
Takahashitoku, an elite dyeing studio in Kyoto, has for 100 years produced Yuzen dyes for the prominent manufacturer, Chiso.
The Takahashitoku studio is trying to preserve and make relevant this traditional art form for modern uses. They dye dresses and jeans for Yoji Yomamoto, one of world’s top contemporary designers. They also collaborated with a celebrated young artist and created scrolls and screens of his compute graphics paintings. For public, they hold classes for to experience hand painted Yuzen for fun.
“Tradition and techniques need to be accepted by people in order to survive’, says Kinya Takahashi, director of the studio. “But then what makes them acceptable? This question is always on my mind.”
Nakayama Shrine in Kadogawa Town, Miyazaki Prefecture, is said to have been founded in 857, when the deity at Izumo Taisha Shrine was transferred to this shrine.
Onamuchi no Mikoto and three other deities are enshrined. Onamuchi no Mikoto is another name for Okuninushi no Mikoto. As Okuninushi no Mikoto is known as the god of nation-building, farming, business and medicine as well as love stories with many princesses, the shrine was famous for the divine power of marriage tie. It was believed that if a young man and a woman passed each other in the front approach of the shrine, they would fall in love with each other.
As there is a song about the shrine, which goes, “Nakayama-san is a good god because if you don’t have any kimono, you can visit him naked, and if you don’t have any sandals, you can visit him with bare feet,” it is said that, in the ancient times, men were allowed to visit the shrine even only in loincloth, and women in koshimaki (waist wrap).
The grand festival held on January 7 every year is famous as a naked festival, in which both toshi-otoko (men whose zodiacal sign corresponds to the year's sign) and men of Yaku-doshi (the unlucky age) wearing only white loincloth, white tabi (Japanese socks) and white headbands run up the stone steps to the precinct, shouting loud encouragement. In the precinct, they pour cold water onto the head and all over the body to purify themselves and pray for the safety and a good health of their family.
Bingata is an Okinawan traditional paste resist dyeing technique. It was created in the 16th century as a dying process for the clothing of the royalty and the nobles of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Because of this, most of the dye-shops at the time were located around Shuri Castle and protected by the government. Although the word “bin-gata” literally means “red patterns” in Japanese, Bingata is generally multi-colored cloth dyed with various patterned stencil papers.
There are actually two methods of doing Bingata dyeing; “stencil dying” and “cylinder drawing.” In stencil dyeing, the boundaries of the patterns are set with the application of rice-paste resist through a stencil. In cylinder drawing, patterns are hand-drawn through what looks to be a pastry tube.
The bright colors produced by these careful hand processes fascinated the royalty and the nobility of the time. Especially the yellow color created by fukugi (Garcinia subelliptica) was allowed to be used only for the loyal family.
Today, Bingata resist dyed cloth is used not only for clothing but also for many other items such as bags and tapestries, all of which feature an exotic atmosphere of a southern land. Together with Yuzen dyeing, it is one of Japan’s representing dyeing techniques now.
Ise-katagami is a Japanese traditional handicraft handed down for about 1.000 years in Mie Prefecture. Kkatagami is Japanese paper stencil patterns for kimono. Kimono stencil has been called Ise-Katagami because it was made primarily in Ise province (present-day Mie Prefecture) and the stencil paper making was protected by the Kishu domain in the Edo period (1603-1868) as the industry of the domain’s outland territory. They were sold all over Japan by itinerant traders called Ise Merchants.
Ise kimono stencil is made of Japanese washi paper with a persimmon stringent liquid, onto which elaborate and elegant kimono patterns are hand-carved. They are mainly used for dyeing kimono such as Yuzen, yukata and Komon. Today they are also used for drawing patterns on pottery ware, glass ware, and goza-mats as well as for the background mon-gara patterns for newspaper names.
Embroidery is the art or handicraft of decorating fabric or other materials with designs stitched in thread or yarn using a needle. The art of embroidery was introduced to Japan from China about 1,600 to 1,700 years ago. Since then, embroidery had been the only way to decorate kimono until the pattern dyeing techniques of Yuzen was introduced. A lot of embroidery techniques were developed in every area of the country for a long time, which led to the present elaborate form of Japanese embroidery.
In ancient Japane, it was thought that stitches had a magical power. For this reason, there was a custome to add an embroidery motif called “Semori” on the back of a garment for children. Semori literally means a back protector. And as children’s kimono had fewer stiches than those of adults, Semori was added as a kind of charm to protect children from evil spirits.
From the similar ideas, embroidery was added to the junihitoe dress, a formal court lady costume in the Heian period (794-1192) and armors for samurai. These religeous element became a part of the bases for the development of embroidery in Japan and “stitches up” the Japanese style of elegance.
On March 3 each year, Hina Matsuri, or Girl's Day, is held at home to pray for the growth and happiness of daughters.
Hina Matsuri is one of five seasonal festivals in Japan and the origin of the festival is as a purification ceremony held in March.
In Japan, dolls were used to drive evil spirits out and this custom came to be connected with toy dolls used in 'Hina Plays'. The hina dolls were decorated and became the basis for the Hina Matsuri.
Lozenge-shaped rice cakes are one of the offerings made at the festival. One of the base ingredients, mugwort, is supposed to remove negative energies. White sake is offered, too, and is supposed to purify the body. A clam is also offered to pray for a good match for the girl who will fit like two parts of a shell. Many other lucky things are offered to pray for the girl's growth.