Today the International Business Development Team (Nanako and Michael) here at Takaokaya visited our weaving partner in Nishijin, Kyoto’s historic weaving district. This traditional workshop weaves the unique silk for our one-of-a-kind Nishijin Silk Ojami Cushion Collection, featured in this recent ‘Kutsurogi’ blog article.
First, a Little About the Nishjin Weaving District
The streetscapes of Nishijin are still largely unchanged from centuries past. Unlike many other parts of Kyoto, the traditional Kyoto ‘machiya’ townhouses are still very much in abundance and the nostalgic click-clack, click-clack sound of working looms can be heard on most any street. The weaving houses are small businesses and family owned, usually specializing in a very unique weaving technique and, or material.
Historically, Nishijin mainly wove the fabric for the very finest ‘obi‘ kimono sashes and ‘kinran’ brocade priest robes in the entire country — and this is a country with an epic weaving culture! So, you know it is exceptional. Nishjin is located just to the West of the Kyoto Gosho Imperial Palace and the weaving houses vied to serve the imperial household, not to mention the aristocracy and head temples and shrines based in the millennia old imperial capital.
Decline of Traditional Industries
As Japanese society has changed in the last 50 years or so, fewer and fewer people wear kimono everyday. This change has taken a serious toll on Japan’s textile culture and Kyoto’s traditional industries in particular. It is said that in this period, at least 70% of traditional industry artisans and companies have gone out of business. In addition to the economic, the cultural loss is enormous — and saddening. The weaving houses that have survived have created ever more unique, high-quality and handcrafted textiles to compete with cheap, plain imports. Takaokaya is committed to supporting these worthy textile artisan producers. We want to see Kyoto’s textile culture flourish again, that is why we are developing our ‘new tradition’ collections to introduce to the world!
An Exceptional Weaving House — The First Weaver of Necktie Silk in Japan
Our weaving partner for Nishijin-ori Silk Ojami Cushion Collection has a century of weaving experience and started out in 1915 specializing in finely woven silk for Western-style neckties. In fact this house is said to be the very first weaver of silk for domestically produced, Western neckties in all the land! Takaokaya selected this house for its renowned super fine and soft silk but asked them to take inspiration from Japan’s past and create a textile series for Takaokaya that blends old and new in a previously unseen harmony. We think our collaboration is a real success. We were very gratified at the reception this collection received from distributors, designers and media at Maison et Objet in Paris 2014. We were even selected to exhibit in the exclusive ‘Haute Couture interiors’ Editeurs Hall (Hall 7)! Nishijin-ori Silk Ojami Cushion Collection was the star of our range at Maison et Objet.
Though a Doorway Back in Time
Walk through the door of this weaving house and you are transported back to the Kyoto of a century ago. The property is a traditional Kyoto ‘machiya’ townhouse. The first floor contains the office in front and weaving workshop in back — connected by the ‘doma’ earthen floor kitchen, this one replete with working water well, ‘kamado’ earthen cooking hearth and ‘kamidana’ household Shinto altar. The second floor is the home of the owner and his family.
Mr Taihei, the 4th generation owner gave us a tour of his weaving house, founded in 1915. We saw countless fabrics from their collections and scrapbooks with swatches from many decades past. This weaving house is said to be the first weaver of Western-style necktie silk and maker of neckties in Japan. Therefore the extra-soft and fine silk is their forte.
Our necktie silk has been used by many brands for many decades now but it was particularly enjoyable to collaborate with Takaokaya and use our know-how and creativity to create textiles that are new for us and for Japan. Nishijin’s weaving culture is so special that I am not surprised that this collection is very popular with people both abroad and in Japan, I just wish MORE people knew about us!! Generally, traditional Kyoto artisans have done a very poor job of making themselves known to the modern world. With this collaboration with Takaokaya, I hope we can change that and people all over the world can appreciate the quality that is Kyoto and maybe have some Kyoto weaving culture in their own homes!
Take a Closer Look!