PALAU: Wish for Eternal Peace

    Japan's traditional garment -- the kimono -- is being used as a canvas to highlight the history and culture of each of the teams that will compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. And the kimono representing Palau is an expression its creator's desire for world peace.

    The kimono, which was created by 82-year-old Norihito Sakai, is dyed crystal blue, a symbol of the South Pacific island nation.

    The kimono master, whose career spans nearly seven decades, has long been acclaimed for his fine technique and creative ideas. When it comes to designing and painting Japan's signature silk garments, Sakai is without doubt one of the nation's top artisans.

    One event inspired Sakai to create a special kimono for Palau. The Empire and Empress of Japan visited the country last year, to pay tribute to those who died there during World War Two.

    Sakai's long forgotten wish was revived, and he decided to make a special kimono to commemorate all those who sacrificed their lives.

    For a kimono representing tropical islands, Sakai chose a sheer fabric normally used for summer clothing, and mixed several colors to create images in the mind's eye.

    Sakai wanted to recreate the colors of the tropical ocean and the emerald green of Palau's jungles. The sheer fabric is extremely thin, which makes it easy to smudge the dyes. It takes great technical skill to draw a perfect gradation of colors for the design.

    "I wanted to create a gradation of colors on the kimono, from emerald green to crystal blue. The gradation eventually reaches the base color of deep blue," Sakai says.

    He took a break while he was making the kimono, and visited his hometown. He wanted to rediscover his creative purpose in making the kimono. Sakai's cousin, Susumu Nakajima, was drafted into the army and died when he was 23 years old.

    Sakai recalls that Susumu had a secret crush on Sakai's sister. On the day he went to war, Susumu had his picture taking with her.

    "There must have been many youngsters like my cousin, who wanted to build a family in peace. I wanted to soothe such souls who couldn't fulfil their dreams," Sakai says.

    Sakai resumed painting the kimono with renewed fervor, keeping in mind the romantic image of pairs of beeves, Palau's national bird. He drew the birds flying and nesting, and wanted to honor the memory of those who could not realize their dreams.

    After six months, Sakai's mission was finally accomplished. The national birds cuddle together in windmill palm trees, against the backdrop of the beautiful South Pacific Ocean. By expertly working with the sheer, two-layered fabric, Sakai magically conjured an animated vignette from the flat cloth of the kimono.

    Sakai named the kimono "Eternal Peace in Blue" and showcased his latest art piece to officials at the Embassy of Palau.

    "The design element within the kimono shows the unification between worlds and peace through the symbolism of our birds," says Charles Reklai Mitchell, minister-counsellor at the Palau Embassy.

    Sakai dreams of the day that he will visit Palau carrying the kimono with him, to pay tribute to the war dead.

    "Many spirits peacefully sleep in Palau. I want to dedicate my new kimono to them," he says.