Ryukobo-Tradition and Renovation of Japanese braid-making


I want to be an artist under the name of a craftsman for kumihimo


My eyes caught a camera strap that was seamless and made of kumihimo, Japanese braded cords. I could tell easily that the product possesses elasticity and durability. “We need to discard the conventional notion that obijime, a cord used for holding Japanese Kimono sashes, just represents the marketing image of kumihimo.” Takashi Fukuda, a craftsman of Kumihimo, said and showed us the bracelet made of kumihimo.



“This is the work done by my son, Ryuta. He has designed its pattern and interlaced it.” Takashi then held a stole made of kumihimo in front of us, which was not weaved but interlaced by the skills of a superior craftsman.


Among others was ball-point pens shown us as well, which penholder were made of kumihimo together with the nibs having applied the lacquering called Tsugaru. They deliver those pens to Japanese hotels or traditional Japanese inns. Takashi added, “It is an honor for us that the pens combining two Japanese craftsmanship, one is Edo kumihimo from Tokyo and the other is lacquering from Aomori prefecture, welcomes the guests from all over the world at the reception desk of Japanese hotels. The visitors from overseas can hold the excellent works of Japanese artisans.” Even for domestic tourists it must be the good opportunity to rediscover their own tradition.


This “Kumihimo pen with lacquered holder” contains the innovative technology in the history of kumihimo manufacture. Ryukobo has devised a hollow double braided cords structure for the pen as a new interlacing method, as opposed to the existing interlacing one in which no gaps should be made in interlaced kumihimo.


The bracelet made of kumihimo was designed to encourage consumers more familiarly and daily usage.


Ryuta Fukuda is trying to break stereotypes that obijime is the first usage of kumihimo people might think of. “I was a kid playing with braiding kumihimo rather than assembling wooden blocks, say between the age of three to four.” He said and added that he has just learned how to interlace cords through watching and then copying the works of artisan not being instructed by workers.


The ball-point pens hiring new techniques combined, kumihimo and lacquering


“I always want to keep myself working as much as possible whenever I am free.” Ryuta is a man of principle who believes himself as an artist rather than recognizes own to be a craftsman. “I would like to perform an art. Although I am dealing with kumihimo as a craftsman, I am not just commercially making it.” So, the innovations, such as the stoles, the kumihimo pen with lacquered holder, and camera straps, were created by Ryuta’s soul in which he desired to embody his hand crafting in the combined form of traditions and innovations. “I would like the visitors to bring kumihimo back to their home countries as the souvenirs from Tokyo. But obijime might not be the best idea catching their eyes and being examined by many people. So, how about making bracelets? In such a way I try to finish up my kumihimo to be the one “used” by people. — that I always seeking the best way to achieve it. To begin with, I need to have an idea.”


Although Ryuta was sounding in high spirits, he has confessed his honest feeling too. “I am scared to be faced to such innovation, of course. I am fully aware that it could result in destroying the tradition after making the things having not existed in our tradition. But the skills need to be passed onto the next generation, or otherwise the tradition of kumihimo itself may die, so why shouldn’t I challenge before it happens.” Kumihimo is the work done by interlacing threads, not by simply braiding or weaving. I wanted to confirm further with Takashi Fukuda, “A craft originates from the work of interlacing, doesn’t it?” Takashi shook his head.


The stole is not made by knitting, but has applied the techniques of kumihimo.


“People has started a craft from twisting threads before interlacing them, I believe.” That’s true, silk threads of kumihimo is twisted and gathered in the beginning. He continues, “For instance, I guess that fishing lines must have been strengthened by twisting the strings in the ancient days when human beings were lacking in fabrics.” As he says, firstly silk threads are twisted, and then after obtaining the strength in them they will be interlaced to make up a strong bond, kumihimo. Gathering in Ryukobo, the Edo kumihimo work shop, the craftsmen have been doing their best to interlace the kumihimo of today.



Written by Akitoshi Urayama
Photo by Sodo Kawaguchi



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