The kimono created for Russia debuted in April. It was designed to celebrate Russia’s glorious culture, history and nature with opulent motifs. The Russian embassy collaborated on the design project. Konstantin Vinogradov of the Russian Cooperation Agency in Japan suggested some motifs. "This is the rocket that launched the Russian-made Sputnik, the world’s first artificial earth satellite, into space," he said, showing a pattern on the kimono.
University students in Kyoto, the heart of kimono production, also supported the project. Tatsumi Ono, who was studying Russian at the time, consulted his teacher on motif ideas. They discussed the use of Khokhloma painting elements and quotes from Russian literature. "I thought it would be interesting to incorporate famous Russian words, culture and design," he says.
Kyoto-based artisan Toshio Kojima was chosen to design the kimono due to his unique brocade technique called kazari-nishiki, deemed perfect for expressing Russia's magnificent culture.
Kojima uses textile sheets with subtle gradations, which he achieves through weaving silk threads and fine strips of gold and silver-coated washi paper. He always pursues ideal color combinations for the overall effect. His wife Sayoko expertly cuts out the parts, then pastes them on the textile and uses embroidery to create a relief effect.
Kazari-nishiki brocade work is labor-intensive. Kojima struggled with the demanding number of motifs and their unfamiliar nature. It took him 2 years to finish the work. "Since there are so many people coming from all around the world for the Olympics, I really want to create a kimono that will absolutely impress the crowds," he says.
The completed kimono expresses symbols representative of Russia, including the renowned Hermitage Museum and a firebird from a fairy tale as well as the country's pioneering space program. And there's a motif inspired by a Khokholoma painting.
More than 100 people, including Russians, attended an event at the Russian embassy in Tokyo to unveil Kojima's masterpiece. "I think this kimono is really beautiful," said a spectator. "I’m glad people who made it depicted a lot of Russian symbols," said another.
"This kimono is proof of the great things that can be created when people collaborate. I want to ensure that as many Japanese and Russian people as possible will get to see it in these 2 years," says Vinogradov.
The kimono has become a symbol of partnership and cultural exchange between Japan and Russia. And there are hopes that it will connect many people from around the world at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.