G7: Designing Nations

    Japan's traditional garment -- the kimono -- is being used as a canvas highlighting the history and culture of each country that will compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

    At a reception for the G7 energy ministers in early May, some very unusual kimonos were unveiled.

    One kimono, symbolizing France, featured the red, white and blue of the country's flag, in a bed of beautiful flowers. On the Italian kimono, there was a Renaissance cityscape of arches and domes.

    The project is the brainchild of Yoshimasa Takakura, who runs a kimono shop in Fukuoka.

    Takakura hopes this project will take the traditional world of kimono beyond the usual design palette of flowers and birds. He wants to revitalize kimono culture and transform it into something younger people will embrace.

    "I felt that the image of kimono had gotten stale. I'd like to shatter stereotype by demonstrating that these garments can accommodate any type of design from anywhere in the world," Takakura says.

    Over the past 2 years, he's enlisted artisans across Japan to design and produce kimonos and sashes representing countries across the globe. Twenty have been completed so far.

    "The pieces representing the G7 countries were among the first to be completed," Takakura says.

    For the UK-themed kimono, an artist proposed an innovative design, as well as images from "Hamlet" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream." There are even motifs from "Alice in Wonderland" and the James Bond movie series.

    The artist behind the German-themed kimono is Katsuhiko Hayashi. His image of Germany as a modern, efficient country inspired this abstract design.

    The straight lines echo the Bauhaus school and the country's modern architecture. The national flower is incorporated into gears representing Germany's heavy industry. And a classical music score evoking Bach and Beethoven floats in waves across the fabric.

    "I wanted to create a piece that expresses my individuality," Hayashi says. "It is my understanding that the Germans excel in that regard. I wanted my work to live up to their reputation."

    At the May event, models decked out in the 6 kimonos moved across the stage, and the audience applauded each and every one. But some had special praise for the pieces representing their country.

    "They were many ideas of Germany in there, brands and companies, ideas of cultures, very well in terms of colors and design are very well deserved," a German delegate said.

    "The ministers from each country appeared to be pleased. I was moved by their happy expressions," Takakura said.

    Takakura has 170 more kimonos to complete, and only 4 years to go.