A dress shirt is cut by a Japanese knife not scissors
Shingo Hiramatsu of age twenty-nine is cutting shirt fabric using a Japanese knife, whose handle attached is almost like Japanese sword. I visited the factory on rainy day and three young men were devoting themselves to making shirts there. My preconception was that there should’ve been the middle-aged craftsmen operating the tasks and it was completely denied.
The works are mostly done by hand and they hardly ever rely on machines or scissors to cut fabrics. The Japanese knife loosely curved in V-shape is cutting the fabric spread on pale blue colored mat. Shirt fabrics must be cut by scissors in the western world, but here in Japan we employ the special knives called Konoha or Daruma for cutting shirt material. They apply the same technology of Japanese sword production to manufacture those special knives. A knife is forged in three layers comprising iron and steel, whose edge is sharpened enough. The workers start their daily routine work sharpening the Japanese knife Konoha and Daruma every morning.
I was asking the question to myself why they are using the knife in such a unique form to cut material. Then, suddenly Shingo Hiramatsu who had been standing in front of a working bench moved his position to sit on the bench to cut the material. He was bending his body sliding the knife Daruma on the fabric. “I just needed to move the position. It’s just natural movement that my body told me to do so in order to finish the cutting in perfect.” Hiramatsu was a quiet man and didn’t tell any more. Instead Daisuke Konagaya at the age thirty-five, a colleague of Hiramatsu and another young craftsman of YAMATOYA, told me the reason. “That is because you need to put your weight on your fingertips so that the knife can be pushed and run through when you cut the material.”
They never pull the knife when they cut fabrics, but push and run it through the sharp edge to its handle. Konagaya added that it must be only in Japan where workers have been hiring this method. “We overlap and cut the material, but they don’t slide between the upper and the lower parts.” Let me try to explain more details. A shirt has the combined parts to be sewn the front and back fabrics together, such as collars or cuffs. When using scissors, they still allow the slight difference after the decimal point in between upper and lower parts. Usually the lower part comes to larger, which is invisible to the naked eyes though. Japanese manufacturers never compromise with this difference after the decimal point (in mm). This is the reason why they use a uniquely shaped Japanese knife not scissors with their fingers.
The cut material was passed from Hiramatsu to Yukihiro Ishikawa of age thirty-two, who was in charge of starching. Ishikawa was going to apply starch to the overlapped parts of the fabric before sewing them together. In Japan we used to have the shirts ironed after starch being applied, but today little number of cleaners does the same service. That must have been the remains of the shirt making, I wondered. According to Daisuke Konagaya, there should be three reasons behind why they need the process.
“First of all, it’s for sewing purpose. A dress shirt is stitched along with very close to its outside edge. The upper and lower parts need to be strongly attached using starch, so that the gap couldn’t be appeared. If the thickness were 2mm between the upper and lower fabrics, the part should be stitched in 2mm interval with sewing threads. The same apply to the case of 3mm or others.” Accordingly the shirt will be finished in the state just like being overlapped and tied up by threads, rather than like being seamed two fabrics. Even bits of looseness or tightness shouldn’t be caused by threads. The finished products will be thin and strong without their threads loosen. This is a proud sewing technique of Japan in shirt making. Durability will be given by not only textile quality but sewing technique—This is the first reason.”
The second reason for using starch may be associated with the English made shirt introduced to Japan. Daisuke Konagaya infers from it, “Many shirt makers including Seiemon Ishikawa have attempted to produce the dress shirt with firm collars and cuffs to which starching is necessary, having been influenced by English style shirts.
The third reason derives from Japanese kimono, means kimono making. Since the old days Japanese have been stretched and dried the pieces of a kimono on boards after they have been washed. This is one of the common methods to retain the Kimono in best condition, by which women or men can wear refreshed kimono after taking off wrinkled ones. He said with a smile, “It’s the authentic form of Japanese fashion to have textile being firmed without wrinkles.” Even if the starch starts melting by water, a kimono will be wrinkle-free since the fabrics are pressed and attached. Nevertheless the material itself is not too firm on any part of Kimono. Such Japanese tradition is applied in their shirt making, which must be the third reason.”
After graduating from the faculty of Business Administration, Hosei University, Daisuke Konagaya had a strong desire to become a tailor so he researched shirt making by himself. He hopped into the shop YAMATOYA SHIRTS with his own made shirt in hands. They said, “Well, it’s still need to be improved more and more.” Being responded from YAMATOYA in such a word, he obtained a job in their factory and has been carrying on research and actual works in exactly the same way as the founder Seiemon Ishikawa pursued. How can I achieve my dream job? — I found that most Japanese young skilled workers ask the same questions in their young life being driven by the passion to their ideal job, and then choose their own career.
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