Searching all of Japan for handcrafted items that express its heart and soul, our proprietor, KASHIYUKA, presents things that bring a bit of luxury to everyday life. Her travels took her on this day to the city of Kurashiki in Okayama prefecture, known for the grassy plant igusa, a soft rush growing there that is best known as the material from which tatami mats are woven. There she met a young artisan, a weaver of the simple, humble handcraft called “ikago”.
When I started the “KASHIYUKA Market” two years ago I had a certain idea in mind. I thought it should be a place for younger generations to learn about handcrafts that have, with great difficulty, been maintained and carried through to modern life. One of these was the tatami. And then I came across “ikago” in the town of Kurashiki, Okayama prefecture — baskets woven of igusa, the substrate material of tatami mats.
The Sunami Toru Shoten studio was established in 1886 in Kurashiki, a place famed for its igusa. They began making tatami and the decorative tatami carpeting known as hanagoza. Today the family’s fifth-generation artisan, Mr. Ryuki Sunami, makes ikago baskets one piece at a time, by hand, in accordance with the instruction he received from his grandmother. “I’ve always loved furniture and ceramics, and even devoted study to graphic design,” says Mr. Sunami, just 26 years old. He is currently the only ikago artisan in Japan.
He first took me to his workshop, which he converted himself from a barn more than a century old. There you’ll find an old loom, inherited from previous generations. The material he produces is inawa, a thin, sturdy rope made of twisted igusa. This is loaded onto the loom and woven into fabric. The edges are hemmed into a basket shape. When you think of a basket you visualize a wooden base and sides formed from the thick vines of wild grapes or walnuts. But here in Kurashiki, baskets are woven.