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 journey this time brings her to Iga, in Mie prefecture. Here she encountered the traditional national handcraft of multicolored obijime, the braided cord used to secure the ornate kimono sash in place, at Iga Kumihimo Studio.
My recent visit to Tsumugi Studio intensified my involvement with kimono, and so now it’s prompted an interest in obijime, the sash tie. I visited the Matsushima Kumihimo shop, established in 1932, to look into Iga kumihimo, regarded nationally as a traditional craft of Mie prefecture.
Kumihimo braiding involves dyeing silk threads that are then woven together on a specialized device called a kumidai. The Iga area once competed with Edo (ancient Tokyo) and Kyoto as one of the top three areas for this craft since the Nara period. Today their hand-constructed obijime constitutes nearly the entirety of its production in Japan. First, I was to view the handcrafting method called tegumi.
“The basis of kumihimo is the braid. Two strands give you a tangle, introduce a third and you can begin to “compose,” says the studio’s current patriarch, Mr. Shunsaku Matsushima.
In the studio you see not three, but several dozen threads laced upon kumidai composition devices such as the cylindrical tsuzumi drum-shaped type and the takadai, which resembles a traditional loom. Today Mr. Kenta Matsushima sits at the takadai constructing a traditional Kōrai (Korean) style braid. He weaves the silk threads, bound to wooden spools, alternating from left to right, right to left, lightly, rhythmically, tightening as he goes, using a bamboo tool resembling a spatula.
“This thread-crossing we call ‘aya-o-toru’. The ‘aya’ is from ayatori (cat’s cradle), so we’re ‘forming the cat’s cradle’,” says the younger Mr. Matsushima. The “aya” that the maker sets out with determines what pattern will emerge, but there’s no plan to work from, only ayagaki, written instructions that serve as conductor for the hands to follow. For example, the giraffe pattern I’m looking at today will require as many as 150 repeated movements to form about a 20-centimeter length. A five shaku (150 cm) obijime takes three days to fabricate.