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.
Sokutai is the full official dress worn by emperors, aristocrats and courtiers since the Heian Period (794). It is also called Hino-shouzoku.
The word Sokutai, was originally found in the Analects of Confucius, where it meant layered clothes tied with an obi belt and it indicated a full set of dress.
Sokutai consist of a crown, hitoe clothes worn over underwear followed by akome and shitagasane clothes with a long sash called kyo hanging in the back. Crimson under pants and baggy outer trousers are then added and finally, an outer robe called hou, which is tied with a leather belt containing stone decorations called sekitai.
Sokutai, based on the court uniforms worn by the government officials under the ritsuryo codes, became the full official dress of the Imperial Court. Those who were among military officers, civil officials in Nakatsukasasho who oversaw imperial affairs and aristocrats who held the sangi position or higher and who were granted Imperial permission were allowed to wear a sword. As time passed, sokutai has become more ceremonial, only being worn in special occasions.
There are two kind of the hou outer robe: houeki which the civil officials wore and ketteki which allowed more free movement and was worn by military officials.
Sokutai is traditional and elegant full official wear for the emperor as well as aristocratic and government officials.
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.
Kisaburo Ogawa was born in November 30, 1936. He is recognized as the holder of the important intangible cultural heritage of kenjyo-hakata-ori and was designated a living national treasure in 2003. Kisaburo Ogawa is also a guest professor of fine art at Kyushu Sangyo University.
Kenjyo-hakata-ori or Hakata weaving dates back 700 years to the Kamakura period. It gets its name because it was a gift bestowed annually by the Kurota clan to the government in the Edo period.
The weaving's trait is the thick-layered fabric and its silky touch, and was mainly used to weave sashes. Although this traditional craft is woven on a loom, the industry faces a dilemma in that there is no successor. The Hakata Weaving Association is making products other than sashes, to keep and develop the tradition. For example, they are making bags and wallets to attract younger people. Mr Ogawa, being a member of the association, works energetically as a panel member in symposiums and gives speeches.
Weaving industry in Kyoto suffered a catastrophic damage by the Onin War (1467). However, when the conflict ended, the weavers returned to Kyoto and resumed their craft of weaving on the site where the western forces had camped during the war. Since then this craft has been called “Nishijin,” which means “the west position.” During the Edo period, takahata (raised loom) was imported from China, which made mon-ori (brocade) using Sakizome yarn (yarn dyed in advance) possible and the Nishijin area became the major textile producing center. In the Meiji period, observers went to France and other European countries to study the textile techniques such as jacquard weaving and succeeded in modernizing the industry, which made the Nishijin Weaving the highest-grade textile of the country. In Nishijin weaving, yarns of various colors are woven to make gorgeous and elaborate patterns. At the present not only traditional obi belts and kimono fabrics but also fabrics used for neckties and kimono accessories are made. Some are even used for interior decoration. Innovative products with modern design are manufactured as well. Up to now, 12 of the techniques are designated as Traditional Craft Products.
Wakasa Agate Work, highly regarded internationally, is thought to have originated in the Nara period (710-794AD) when a sea-faring people known as the Wani Tribe entered Onyu, an old village in the Wakasa region of Fukui Pref. They built Wani-Kaido, a road in front of a shrine, which bordered Wakasaichi Buddhist statue, and started producing jade objects.
In the middle of the Edo period (1600-1868), a technique to burn ore and enhance the color of agate was perfected. However it was not until the Meiji period (1868-1912) that the sculptural technique of agate was introduced and perfected as a craft art.
It employs the firing techniques that are unique to Wakasa agate work and, then, hardened ores that glow with beautiful color are cut and painstakingly polished to create such things as Buddhist statues, animal ornaments, incense burners, plummets for hanging scroll, clips for obi (kimono belt), and broaches.
Wakasa agate work requires incredible proficiency and patience taking a minimum of three years to master the polishing technique and another five or six years to be able to fully work the pieces. The apprenticeship can take up to fifteen years, only then will a craftsman be considered a true artist. However, once mastered, the beauty of the clear delicate gloss can be found nowhere but Wakasa agate.
“Wafuuya” sells goods and modern merchandise that have been reworked from used fabrics and materials such as kimono and obi-belts. Oranku-Koubou is a store in Osaka that started to sell online as “Wafuuya” and has been gaining in popularity all over the country.
The store sells bags as well as interior, home and kitchen-ware. There is a wide range of products that are not stereotypically “Japanese-style, and include maternity passbook cases and room shoes, too. Their modern and elegant designs recall the Taisho romantic style and also look back to the Showa period.
Wafuuya also remakes old kimonos that have passed from generation to generation. By bringing these back to life, it’s possible to create a fascinating and unique look.