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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC



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Kimonos Go International

Jul. 21, 2015

The Japanese kimono industry faces an uncertain future. Fewer people in Japan are wearing traditional clothes. Sales are 1/6 of what they were 30 years ago. Today, we look at how a kimono retailer is trying to revive the industry. He hit on the idea of producing kimonos that express cultural diversity.

The varieties include one for South Africa, with the national flower, the protea, on the material. The island nation of Tuvalu in the South Pacific is also represented. The blue is the color of the ocean.

NHK World’s Emiko Lenart has a story about a kimono for Italy, after it debuted in Milan.

A parade showcasing Japanese culture attracts throngs of visitors at the expo in Milan. A kimono draws smiling crowds. Italian culture and history inspired the design. Yoshimasa Takakura produced the garment.

Takakura runs a retail company selling kimonos in Fukuoka. A decline in people wearing traditional clothes has seen the kimono business facing hard times. Takakura says the biggest task is finding a way to pass on the art, when the artists are aging. He says something needs to be done to keep the kimono culture alive. To preserve the best skills and artworks, Takakura invited all the major creators in Japan to join his project.

He visits one of the finest kimono makers in Kyoto. The theme for Italy was the Renaissance. Takakura wants the garments to have elements of both tradition and today’s world.

75-year-old Terukazu Hagimori took on the challenge. He uses “Bokashi” or the art of color gradation to bring out medieval landscapes in Italy. Hagimori is a master with more than 50 years behind the brush. His technique is reminiscent of a watercolor painting. He used more than 50 colors for the Italian kimono. It’s a constant process of mixing colors for each part of the design. He says he’s happy with his work on the kimono, and would like people to enjoy what the color gradation gives to the design.

Now, Takakura’s moved onto the obi, or belt. Takakura spoke to the top maker in Kyoto. He wants the obi to express the future of Italy. He says he wants the “Italian red-car color.” It was an unusual request for the manufacturer. Takakura says he thinks cars are an integral part of Italians’ fashion and philosophy.

The metallic red doesn’t exist in traditional Japanese kimonos. The designer also suggested weaving in some glitter. For the headlights, they used thick gold and rainbow threads. It gives some glimmer and creates some depth.

It took 3 months to make the kimono and obi. You can see a view of the village through the cathedral arch. The gradation gives a 3-D effect. There’s even a helicopter designed by Leonardo Da Vinci in the sky. It’s a glimpse of Takakura’s sense of humor.

The obi was dedicated to people in Italy with the wish for a bright future. The fine skills of the artists made it possible to make the garment shine.

The Italians seem to appreciate the symbol of the kimono as it communicates the spirit from some of the master artists in Japan. A woman says she loves the way they tie the belt, and thinks everything is beautiful. The expo’s General Commissioner, Bruno Antonio Pasquino, says the kimono and obi have become a successful merging of tradition and novelty. He says an Italian should be able to notice the specific red used in the obi.

It’s 5 years until the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Not only gold, but silver, bronze and many other colors are all set to be winners in Takakura’s event.

Yoshimasa Takakura, the one who is leading the Kimono project joins Aki Shibuya and Sho Beppu in the studio.

Beppu: Yukiko is modeling for us. So, what you are wearing is the kimono for Italy, the one that we’ve been seeing in the story.

Takakura: That’s right. The artisans we commissioned for this are highly regarded for their outstanding use of contrasting colors as well. Look at this blue. You see the beautiful coast in southern Italy here, this type of vivid blue is very unusual for a Japanese kimono.

Beppu: Blue like in the Mediterranean.

Shibuya: And I believe, you’ve brought another kimono for us in the studio. I heard that this one represents the United States. The flowers on this kimono are the 50 state flowers.

Beppu: So each state has one flower.

Shibuya: Exactly, you see the Sunflowers, Hibiscus, Camelia, Violet, Iris. Very colorful. It’s really beautiful, isn’t it.

Beppu: And look, it doesn’t stop, it’s not only the flowers here.

Shibuya: Right, it’s the dynamic bald eagle. Right on the shoulder. And this is Apollo 11, you usually don’t see this kind of motif on Kimonos.

Beppu: Well, Mr. Takakura, you’ve been talking about your sense of crisis for the industry in the story. But how serious do you think the kimono industry is now?

Takakura: That’s right. As a member of the kimono industry, I’m very worried that these traditional techniques will disappear in the near future. Most artisans will soon retire because of their age, but the industry hasn’t been able to attract younger people.

Beppu: Why is it difficult? It’s a very creative artistic job, but why is it difficult for the younger generation to join?

Takakura: It’s hard to make a living doing the work. To keep the tradition alive, we need to feed creativity with new challenges. I hope this project will help rediscover the potential of kimonos.

Beppu: Talking about this project. How do you run this?

Takakura: We raise funds through donations from individuals and firms. We want to be able to guarantee a minimum commission for each artisan. Even though the pay isn’t high, these creators give us the best of their skills. I believe that they are really making priceless pieces of art.

Beppu: And I understand that you have a big dream for the year 2020, when the Olympics take place in Tokyo. Tell us about that.

Takakura: Yes, it’s really huge. My dream is that in 2020, all the models in each of the 196 designs will stand hand in hand. I hope this sends the message that the world can be united as one.

Shibuya: Very ambitious and very playful at the same time.