COSTA RICA: Designed for Peace

    Japanese artisans are creating kimono inspired by countries around the world, hoping to complete the project in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. One craftsman whose life has been touched by war has drawn on Central American themes to express his desire for peace.

    He's using a technique called "bingata" to make the kimono. The designs often depict animals, plants and abstract patterns. Bingata is a tradition in Okinawa, on the southernmost tip of Japan. The colorful chain of islands is full of tropical flowers and is surrounded by a clear blue ocean and beautiful coral reefs.

    Bingata evolved around 700 years ago when Okinawa was a hub of international trade and the center of the Ryukyu Dynasty.

    Eiichi Shiroma, 38, is the 16th-generation proprietor of a bingata studio. He was entrusted with making a kimono representing Costa Rica, a natural treasure that's home to 5 percent of the Earth's species of flora and fauna.

    "Costa Rica’s vibrant plants and animals are similar to Okinawa’s. Even if this a new design, I want it to reflect the bingata tradition no matter what," Eiichi says.

    Eiichi wanted to depict more than natural beauty -- he wanted to express his feelings about peace.

    Paper stencils are used in bingata. Created over the course of 600 years, these traditional patterns had been passed down from generation to generation.

    But Okinawa became a battleground during World War II and most bingata kimonos and paper stencils were lost. But some were found on the Japanese mainland. Eiichi’s grandfather, Eiki, set about copying designs from these old stencils, aiming to revive bingata.

    Eiichi learned that neutral Costa Rica has no standing army. He wanted to reflect Costa Rica's commitment to peace using bingata.

    "Thinking about both Japan and Costa Rica, I felt a strong connection to the idea of peace from the very beginning," he says.

    The design he came up with features lots of hummingbirds, butterflies, and plants, and on the hem is a large quetzal, a bird said to bring happiness. Eiichi wanted the natural paradise of Costa Rica to stand as a symbol of peace.

    Bingata uses pigments instead of dye to create bright colors that don’t fade in strong sunlight. The pigments don’t take to the fabric very easily, so the artist uses two brushes to patiently imprint the colors.

    The next process is called bokashi kumadori, in which darker colors are laid over the base color, and the two are blurred together.

    "You put the colors on over and over, just like when women put on blusher or lipstick. This makes the patterns look three-dimensional," Eiichi says.

    Eight months after production started, the kimono was complete. The bird that brings happiness was depicted in vivid colors. The orchid flowers seem to be basked in tropical sunlight. The background blue color symbolizes the beautiful seas of Okinawa. Together with Costa Rica’s lush nature, the kimono represents a shared dedication to peace.

    The kimonos symbolizing many countries were put on display in Tokyo. Many people gathered to see them, including Laura Esquivel, Costa Rica's ambassador to Japan.

    "I think it represents really my country because of the bright colors, nature, and also our national symbols," Esquivel said. "When you see the colors and nature in the kimono, you can feel also peace."

    Okinawa's unique experience in the war saw it almost lose the technique of bingata but it helped the kimono express its message of peace.

    "I needed to bring out the essence of bingata, and I think the power of nature helped me do that. It was a great learning experience for me," Eiichi says.