Ryukobo-Tradition and Renovation of Japanese braid-making


The precise preparations by hand before braiding kumihimo


The thread is reeled in hands of Shigeki Hayashi, a craftsman in Ryukobo, and then he spreads the bundled threads delivered from silk-raising farms in front of him to check its quality. This is the process to open the bundled threads (itodama) and prepare the silk material to move onto all other processes, at the same time the deliverables can be inspected. He says, “We used to have countless silk-raising farms all over Japan, but now the number of those farmers has decreased by only 368 houses. We produce merely 0.38 percent of silk threads in global market.” Ryukobo uses the domestic silk thread as their careful manufacturing policy. They purchase silk from the silk-raising farmers in Gunma prefecture.


Reeling filament by Shigeki Hayashi


Hayashi sets up a bundle of thread on a spinning tool called “gokoudai”. Trying not to loosen the gathered threads, he carefully cuts the tied part of woof with scissors. He pulls a first thread from gokoudai, and then moves it to the spinning wheel along with spinning gokoudai. The process is described as “return the thread” to a spinning wheel. Next process is to measure the thread length for main portion of kumihimo. The medium length is 145cm to 155cm which makes up the size M, while the long length is 165cm to 175cm that constitutes the size L of kumihimo. The final product of kumihimo will be finished up in sixty percent of the thread length after having interlaced the measured perimeter. Hayashi twists the thread when he measures their length, and counts the number of gathered thread by twelve, eighteen and fifty-eight. His hand doesn’t appear to be counting or bunching the thread in my eyes, but he actually finishes up the measurement in a moment relying on his experience and sense.


Returning (or moving) the thread from gokoudai to a spinning wheel.


Hank dyeing is the process to dye silk threads using vegetable dyes from plants, where the working temperature goes up from the range of 40 – 80 degrees, and then to 90 degrees to the end. The worker takes 40 minutes for one operation and repeats the same three times. Takashi Fukuda also mentions how rare material they procure for dyeing, “Ryukobo receives the plants from Meiji shrine, hydrangea or silver grasses from Toukei-temple in Kamakura, and so on.” The color of silk thread is deep after having finished dyeing, in which nature of Japan is well projected. The silk thread will be would up to be fixed to wooden ball later, Tamazuke.


Measuring the thread length


Takashi Fukuda works on marudair, the round braiding stand, on top surface of which (mirror) he changes the directions of itodama (bundled threads) in various angles to interlace the cords. He doesn’t use a paddle but is able to perform various type of braiding including round braid, square braid, and flat braid.


Junaya Imai is in front of a square braiding tool called kadodai, by which he can interlace cords changing their directions along with tightening them, in a similar way to do it on marudai. Only the difference is that the cord will be interlaced in upward direction. The less number of itodama is used and the open size of the strand can be judged easily whether good or not. It is said that Kadodai was invented earlier than marudai at the late Edo period. It has a simpler form than that of a marudai, and that is why the tool rather tests the skill of the artisan for kumihimo.


Hank dyeing


Shigeki Hayashi manipulates the lease rod tool for braiding called ayadakedai, where he interchanges the bundled threads in front from upward to downward to be interlaced. He tightens the threads by hitting them with a paddle called tachi after passing the thread of woof, as well as the workers do on high braiding stand, takadai. Since the threads are hit by a paddle, their open size of the strand becomes finer than those interlaced by other types of tools, making the finish product more beautiful. I was simply impressed by the skills of artisans who are interlacing kumihimo each stand, and couldn’t help thinking, “They doesn’t seem to make mistakes. How can they always remember the order of the operation so well?” The operation was so rhythmical and comfortable that I almost felt sleepy listening to the hitting sound of tachi on takadai or lease rod tool. The works by kumiho craftsman repeat the same slow rhythms, but that sounds us preciseness and complication at the same time. Their hands were moving naturally and keeping the rhythm as if a baby’s heart were beaten.




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