World of Textiles | Imagine
7th May 2021
First published in Inspirations issue #106 in April 2020, written by Ansie van der Walt
'You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one'— John Lennon
Yoshimasa Takakura, a third-generation kimono maker from Kurume, a small city in southern Japan, dreams of using his craft to create harmony and a world as one.
The Imagine One World Kimono Project was launched in 2014 with the aim to create 206 unique kimonos – one for each country in the world. The idea was born while Takakura-san participated in a fashion show in Paris in 2013. His kimono, fusing images of flowers by 18th century Japanese painter Ito Jakuchu with art-nouveau designs, received praise and positive feedback and he understood the ability of Japanese culture to respect others.
The future of the kimono is under threat. Not only do fewer people wear kimonos today but the experienced artisans and kimono makers are ageing and dying out. Very few young designers are taking up the art of kimono making as the market is declining and they can’t see a future for the craft.
Yoshimasa Takakura wants to reverse this trend.
'I want people to be proud of this heritage that was cultivated in this country. I hope to encourage everyone in Japan to preserve this art, not just now but fifty or even a hundred years in the future.'
Inspired by the last Olympic Games held in Japan in 1964, where women dressed in traditional kimonos performed the medal presentations, Takakura’s ambition is to create kimonos representing each country in the world to be worn during the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
In November 2014 Takakura-san held a small show in Tokyo where he introduced the first six kimonos. He presented his idea to people in Japan and overseas ranging from governments and corporations to the public and the media, inviting them to become part of this challenge by contributing funds and other resources. The Imagine One World Kimono Project started gaining momentum.
Over the next few years Takakura-san scoured the country to find masters of their craft. Kimono makers, designers, weavers and other artisans offered their services and expertise. One of these was Kisaburo Ogawa, a master of kenjo hataka-ori, a traditional style of silk weaving based on Buddhist principles. It usually includes continuous stripes in only five colours, creating a simple yet luxurious product.
Ogawa-san specialises in making obi sashes and is one of only ten national living treasures. He was commissioned to design an obi for the Canadian kimono. After long deliberations and research, he used the colours of the Canadian flag and included refined designs to represent Niagara Falls and the aurora borealis, or northern lights. ‘I kept the foundation but created something new’ Ogawa-san said.
'I accepted the challenge to move forward. I am really satisfied – it was worth making. To propel culture forward it is important to do things you have never experienced. By taking on something they have never done, artisans give birth to new designs. Stepping up to the challenge also points them in a new direction of styles and skills.'
Yoshimasa Takakura believes that when people of tradition look towards the future, it has deep and important value for everyone involved in the kimono world.
The Indonesia kimono is a perfect example of how this project breaks new ground in cultural co-operation, skill-transfer and design development. Shigeo Okajima, president of one of the oldest kimono companies in Japan was tasked with creating this masterpiece. Okajimasan is known for his use of kyo-yuzen, a dyeing technique similar to batik but using glue instead of wax for outlining the designs prior to painting. As the glue sits on top of the fabric, this style of dying usually only uses soft colours to prevent ink bleeding.
For this kimono, Okajima-san approached batik master Iman from the town of Pekalongan in Indonesia. Together they created a design incorporating the red and white colours of the Indonesian flag, the multi-island geography of Indonesia and traditional Javanese motifs. Iman and his team applied the wax. It’s usually done on cotton and they had to adapt their technique to work on kimono silk.
'You constantly need to be careful about the condition of the wax when you apply on silk.'
The silk was then sent back to Kyoto to be painted in the Japanese style. Here Okajima-san’s team had their first opportunity to work with rich, dark colours without the fear of ink-bleeding.
This collaboration allowed both artisans to break new ground, to broaden their skill repertoire, and expand their way of thinking about their own traditional craft. As Iman said,
‘this collaboration opened a new world to me. I would like to keep on working with Okajima-san.’
In 2018, four years after they started, the Imagine One World Kimono Project reached their halfway mark with 100 kimonos completed. A big reveal show was held in Tokyo to celebrate their achievement but also to spread the word and gain more support for the second half of the project. It took them four years to reach halfway, but they only had two years left before the deadline of the 2020 Olympics.
As the word spread around the world, more and more designers came forward offering help and a willingness to become involved. They also gained more support from individual countries and businesses that were willing to provide skills, materials and financial support.
The production costs are the same for each kimono regardless of the size of the country, and part of the process of creating each piece is to get confirmation and support on the design from ambassadors of each country.
Yoshimasa Takakura’s message to the models before they went on stage at the halfway celebrations were simple:
‘The world is filled with beautiful things, many of which appear in these kimonos. When you go on stage, I’d like you to hold the wishes and hopes of the people of these countries in your hearts. Joining hands at the end of the show will be the moment the world unites. It is my dream, the goal I am determined to reach.’
At the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, the world will see 206 kimonos. They will represent each country on earth. They will represent the dream of one man who believes in his craft so dearly that he is willing to change the world to save it. They will also represent artisans, craftspeople, designers and makers from every country in the world, breaking barriers and building bridges, using ancient techniques to create a future.
‘Like sports, I believe that the art world has the power to transcend borders.’