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KYOTO — Kimiko Oike, a professional maker of “mizuhiki,” or decorative strings, knows she has a lot to learn from amateurs.

She heads a local mizuhiki manufacturer, turning out a wide variety of custom-made products. However, when she saw art employing mizuhiki by local university students in July 2001, she was spellbound by their originality.

Mizuhiki, literally “water drawing,” involves twisting paper covered with film and other materials, and is mostly used for binding ceremonial envelopes or gifts.

But the works by the students from the Kyoto University of Art and Design were diverse, including broaches, cushions, ornaments and bags, said Oike, president of Sun Oike Co. in Kyoto’s Kumiyama district.

“The works are beyond our imagination,” she said.

The products were the first fruit of the university’s collaboration with Sun Oike.

While such cooperation is common across the country, it normally involves big businesses and cutting-edge technologies. In contrast, the Kyoto University of Art and Design has focused on traditional companies.

“There are many small and midsize companies that have been in operation for hundreds of years in Kyoto,” said Junji Yamada, a liaison officer of the university.

“We want to support these companies by utilizing our intellectual resources.”

Yamada also serves as the secretariat of Kyoto Renaissance Club, an organization that promotes collaboration between the university and businesses.

He said the university needs to survive in a time when the number of students is declining by conducting activities to set it apart from other institutions.

Sun Oike wanted to find alternative applications for mizuhiki and learn how young people regard the medium. Demand for mizuhiki has decreased dramatically in recent years because fewer people hold “yuino” betrothal ceremonies, the firm said.

The final series of student works was displayed in February, and some pieces were chosen to show customers new design concepts.

Although the students’ works are not for sale, “their ideas have certainly contributed to our creativity,” Oike said.

Renaissance Club, which was launched in January, now consists of 65 companies and 23 municipal governments and nonprofit organizations. Other parties, including the Singapore Tourist Bureau, have joined as observers.

The participation fee is 20,000 yen, which generates a healthy relationship between the two sides, Yamada said.

“The club is not just a social gathering,” Yamada said. “What companies want is not just a sample product but the one that sells.”

Since its inauguration, the group has held seminars and forums, and teachers have visited member companies to seek possible collaboration.

Yamashiro Kogei Inc., a local manufacturer of wooden plaques, was approached in March. As a result, a group of students led by an assistant professor of typography is now working on new designs for trophies and certificates of commendation, said Nobuo Tamura, president of Yamashiro Kogei, located in Kyotanabe, Kyoto.

Such award products have limited varieties in design, Tamura said, and the printed message has been paid little attention.

“We want to put more focus on the contents of the recognition and to create more original products to meet requests by individual customers,” he said.

Tamura, who has seen some design suggestions from students, has high expectations for the final works, which are to be completed next month.

Yamada said what the club needs now is to develop profitable products.

“If a hit product or two are generated through the collaboration, it would encourage both business and the university,” he said.

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