Iranian nomads’ Gabbeh carpets all the rage in Japan

Kyodo

Gabbeh wool carpets hand-woven by nomadic Qashqai people in Iran are taking off in Japan, apparently for their unique animal motifs and natural texture.

“The carpets have been featured in magazines and are selling like crazy,” said Katsumi Okuma, 70, who imports Gabbeh carpets in Kobe.

“Gabbeh colors that are made possible by using natural plant dyes seem to suit the Japanese sensitivity,” he said.

According to Okuma, the Gabbeh carpets that are as large as two or three tatami mats — priced at ¥300,000 to ¥500,000 — are particularly in demand.

A store run by Hamid-reza Zollanvari, 43, in Tehran features Gabbeh carpets colored with natural plant dyes such as walnut and pomegranate and bear drawings of animals and plants.

“We export (Gabbeh carpets worth) around $9 million to $12 million to foreign countries a year, and 50 to 60 percent (of them are) for Japan,” said the store’s manager, Ali Farmani, 39. “The biggest market for us is Japan in the last few years.”

Iran is also famous for Persian carpets, but exports have been sluggish due to their high cost.

Farmani said Gabbeh carpets come in “a lot of colors, sizes and designs” and are loved by Japanese because they can find one that matches their decor.

Near the southern Iranian city of Shiraz, the nomadic Qashqai women have been passing down the technique of weaving Gabbeh carpets for hundreds of years, while moving from one location to another in the mountainous region as the seasons change.

The technique has been added by UNESCO to its list of intangible cultural heritage.

The Qashqai people initially produced Gabbeh carpets for their own use.

But Zollanvari’s father, who was confident that people around the world would also love the designs and texture, started exporting them about four decades ago.

To attract more business in Japan, Zollanvari has organized events in which Qashqai women weave a Gabbeh before customers.