World kimono project aimed to revitalize crafts has three years to go

JIJI

A project to create kimono representing 196 countries is in progress, taking the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games as an opportunity to spread the wonders of Japan’s master craftsmanship across the country and overseas.

With the output of traditional crafts dwindling to a fifth of the level 30 years ago, artisans in Japan are approaching the revival of traditional crafts in a new way.

In May, a kimono made for Micronesia was showcased for the first time at a fashion show held in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward. To represent the nation in the middle western Pacific Ocean, the garment’s fabric sported a rainbow stretching across a blue sky, and vibrantly colored birds and hibiscuses. A mesmerized audience snapped pictures with their smartphones.

The Micronesia kimono is part of the Imagine Oneworld Kimono Project, which was founded in 2014. The past two years, the project has showcased earlier creations at fashion shows in Tokyo, and now it has completed 55 kimono representing 55 countries. For those that remain to be made, Yoshimasa Takakura, the head of the project, has been collecting donations via a crowdfunding site and other sources, and he aims to have all of them ready by 2020.

Carefully chosen motifs symbolizing the culture, nature and climate of each country are woven into the design of each kimono. Germany’s, for example, features musical notes and piano keys — a reference to the country’s history of famous musicians. The shapes of gears were also incorporated in the pattern, highlighting the industrial achievements of the country. In contrast, India’s robe sees an array of elephants, peacocks and lotuses, and the Taj Mahal.

Takakura, 49, who has participated in international events such as the Expo Milano 2015, says the idea of making kimono to represent individual countries came to him while at a fashion show in Paris in 2013, when he received a positive response to a kimono that fused Japanese 18th-century painter Ito Jakuchu’s images of flowers with art-nouveau designs. It was then, he says, that he sensed “the ability of Japanese culture to respect others.”

According to the Association for the Promotion of Traditional Craft Industries, the production of traditional crafts, including kimono, shrank to ¥100 billion in 2014 from a peak of ¥540 billion in 1983. The number of workers in the industry also decreased from 290,000 in 1983 to 70,000 in 2014.

On top of changes in consumers’ lifestyle, the industry faces a lack of young apprentices.

“I’ve always wanted to restore the pride and confidence of craftspeople,” says Takakura, who is a third-generation operator of a kimono shop in Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture.

Takakura prepared to launch the Imagine Oneworld Kimono Project as soon as he heard that Tokyo won the Olympic Games bid, hoping to contribute to the games through kimonos.

“My dream is to see the people leading delegations wearing (the kimonos) during the parade of nations at the opening ceremony for the Tokyo Games,” he says.

With just three years to go, dyeing craftsmen, textile manufacturers weaving professionals and more have come together from all around Japan to make the garments. Embassies, schools and the public also all taking part, allowing the project to play a role in international exchange and education.

“With many people getting involved to communicate (the project) overseas,” Takakura says, “Japanese people may also rediscover the charm of the kimono.”