Why We Are Special: Kyoto, the ancient capital with more than 1200 years of history, was the seat of the imperial household. Artists and artisans all over Japan honed their art and craft in hopes of being able to move to Kyoto and vie to serve the aristocracy and ultimately, the emperor. Refined craftsmanship is deeply ingrained in both the DNA of Kyoto and Takaokaya.
At Takaokaya, all of our products are lovingly made by hand. The only machine you’ll find in our workshop is a sewing machine! Kyoto zabuton craftsmen use their finely honed skills, passed down with pride for generations, to make our superbly comfortable cushions. We welcome visitors to our workshop to witness how it is done for themselves!
Takaokaya wouldn’t be what it is today without our super craftsmen and women.
Fabric Cutting Team: Mrs. Yoko Imura
“This Ojami was made in collaboration with a French interiors brand called Casamance. We are always using new fabrics, often from overseas.”
Sewing Team: Ms. Keiko Wakabayashi
“I like these ‘boomerang’-shaped zabuton – they’re unusual and you don’t see them anywhere else.”
Stuffing Team: Mr. Shizuo Baba
“I have been working here for nearly two decades, so the traditional Kyoto Zabuton cushions are close to my heart!”
Close Stitching Team: Ms. Fuka Miyazaki
“I know the products here are very durable and comfy–I stitched them, after all!”
Making a Zabuton Cushion — Video
So, what’s involved in making a Japanese zabuton cushion?
1. First, the craftsman (or woman) uses tailors shears to cut the fabric into rectangles. No machines here, just instinct and an eye for perfection.
2. Next comes the sewing, by machine. In our workshop, our fabulous craftsmen (and women) handle all kinds materials, from ramie and wool to silk and cotton. Having accumulated years of experience, they know just how to work with each one.
3. It may look simple, but learning to stuff our zabuton cushions takes a lot of experience to perfect — just ask Mr. Baba, who is demonstrating it in the video below.
First you take the cotton stuffing. Lots of it. Cotton has a kind-of grain, which makes it easy or tough to tear, depending on the direction. It is piled and folded in alternating directions to increase its strength. Ultimately the zabuton must be flat on the bottom, and a dome shape (called “kamaboko-gata”) on top, since it is the center of the zabuton that bears the most weight.
The prepared stuffing is laid out on the fabric, and after some careful manoeuvring (we don’t want to lose that dome shape!) we have the perfect zabuton cushion!
4. Well, almost. The work isn’t over just yet. For starters, there’s some final stitching to hide the hems (called kuke or blind stitching).
Here, Ms. Nishikawa pounds the cushion to further smooth out the cotton. “It’s quite therapeutic!” she says.
5. It’s time to add some special Kyoto-rashii touches. Most zabuton will have an X-shaped stitch in the center, called a toji stitch, which functions to stabilise the cotton and stop it moving around with use. But on our Kyoto Zabuton, we have a Y-shaped stitch. Why? This indicates that the zabuton should face in the direction of the tail of the Y, as a courtesy to your guest. In the old capital of Japan, the culture of hospitality, or omotenashi, is still important today as it was over 1,000 years ago.
6. Finally, the corner tassels. This is something unique to Kyoto craftsmanship too. They not only serve to prevent cotton falling out, but according to one legend, they protect whoever should use this zabuton from evil!
See the fruits of our craftsmanship for yourself at our Products page, where we also offer a custom order-made service.