Kimono designer dresses up iPad to breathe life into fading tradition


A kimono designer is attempting to save the endangered art by introducing it to today’s gadget-loving younger generation.

Nobuaki Tomita has created cases for Apple Inc.’s iPad tablet computers made of fabric for kimono sashes worn by “maiko” apprentice geisha.

“I want to save the true tradition in one way or another while it is still alive,” Tomita said.

What sets his iPad cases apart is the quality of kimono fabric coupled with durability, a typical feature of maiko obi.

The cases come in 12 designs, including ones featuring Japanese apricots and bamboo set against a vermilion background, and a spinning wheel and cherry flowers against a black background.

The cases will be available online in February. Tomita has also designed bathing suits made of kimono fabric using a variation of the Kyo Yuzen dyeing technique, which has come under threat of vanishing due to a dearth of young artisans.

Tomita has been struggling to breathe new life into the industry in the face of declining kimono popularity and an aging pool of artisans with necessary skills.

In Kyoto’s Nishijin district, renowned for its namesake fabric, more than 1,500 weaving mills were turning out kimono fabric in the peak year of 1975. Now, that number has plummeted to less than 500.

Only a few mills produce fabric for maiko obi, just one of which requires the skills and expertise of around 20 artisans.

“If nothing is done, the number of weaving mills in Nishijin will be reduced to a tenth of the present level in less than a decade,” said Takashi Adachi, Tomita’s partner in the iPad case venture who weaves kimono fabric for kabuki players as well as kimono sash fabric.

Tomita, who has contributed to the production of over 2,000 movies and TV programs as a kimono stylist, has organized kimono shows abroad and has attempted to put the spotlight on kimono in other, unorthodox ways.

In 2009, Tomita, while clad in a kimono, threw the opening pitch in a Major League baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

Among his other stunts was putting a kimono on a champion Matsuzaka cow, a celebrity of sorts as the region is known for quality beef.

Tomita is also trying to involve young people in his efforts to keep the kimono tradition alive. At Kyushu Sangyo University, where he served as a lecturer, Tomita and his students made new obi, with designs featuring famous landscapes and specialty goods of Kyushu, that were displayed in an exhibition in Shanghai on Dec. 2.

“True tradition never fails to attract people,” Tomita said. “I’m hoping to reinvigorate the kimono industry by increasing young people’s exposure.”