The beginnings of a kimono
October 29, 2005
I have been surprised by the number of women I have seen walking around in kimonos during our stay in Japan. I have seen them on women and girls at Italian restaurants (which seem to be the most common type of restaurant, second to Japanese, of course), at the mall and just walking around town.
Though the traditional style of dress isn’t as common as it once was, it seems that many Japanese women relish the opportunity to put a kimono on, despite the fact that they are wrapped so tight that women sometimes pass out when putting them on.
True traditional kimono fabric is very expensive. The fabric to make one kimono, without tailoring, can cost at least $2,000. However, we learned during our visit to Suzuka City this week that much more goes into the patterns on these traditional Japanese gowns than we expected.
On an international level, Suzuka is famous for its raceway, the Suzuka Circuit. However, in Japanese culture, Suzuka is known for katagami, an intricate paper stencil that, in the 12th century, was originally cut simply for artwork. Starting in the 16th century, it was used as a stencil for designs for the dress of samurai. Ninety-nine percent of Japan’s katagami is created in Suzuka.
We visited Mitsuru Kobayashi, 46, in his home and katagami studio in Suzuka City. He has been creating katagami for 30 years, and much of his stencil work has been used to create the intricate patterns on kimonos all over Japan.
Wearing reading glasses, Kobayashi showed us how he uses his tools to create a katagami pattern. His hand was steady and he his eyes were close to the paper as he made knife cuts on a piece of paper that took one year to be prepped and aged. He said his eyes have gone bad from staring at the paper so closely all day.
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Katagami is so detailed that 11 hairline stripes, or 22 knife cuts, can lie within the space of 1 cm. One mistake and the pattern is no good, so we asked Kobayashi what he does with his work if he messes up. He pulled out some bookmarks that he sells at local art shops as an answer to our question.