Day 7: The Framework Underneath Nishiki Weaving

Today we spent our day in the Nishijin District of Kyoto, known for weaving and all the constituent practices that must happen beforehand. Our first was visit was to Tatsumura Co. We met the successor to the company Tatsumura Amane, and he explained a little bit of the history of Nishiki and his company. For one, I did not know that Nishiki was an adjective; though the kanji, as it was explained to me, is composed of both weaving and gold, but the beauty of Nishiki weaving has surmounted the meaning of each part and come to mean beauty itself. As we looked around the hallway in which Tatsumura-san spoke to us, we were surrounded by beautifully ornate, and at times simply beautiful, mounted textiles, each piece sparkling and the available light; as Tatsumura-san talked about them, he would shine a light on them to show how the pieces could change, one of the beauties, and difficulties, of Nishiki weaving.

After hearing about the history and practice, we actually got to see the work in action. Tatsumura-san showed us many of their looms, and talked about how some were previously lost but through his family’s research were able to be constructed once again. I think this is an interesting tie-in, considering Yamamoto-san’s family (Mirror Maker) also had to research the art of makyo mirrors, so that it could be revived. On one hand, many of these traditional crafts are losing the interest of culture at-large; on the other, you still have these individuals and families reaching into the past and bringing them back. At the end of our visit, Tatsumura-san allowed us to use some small looms, and weave our own bit; I really enjoyed it. It seems, again like many of these arts and perhaps art in general, to be an incredibly meditative process. Once one understands how to do the work, very simply in our case, one can find a rhythm. I wish I could have heard more about the Buddhist roots of the weaving.

After finishing up at Tatsumura Co., we walked over to the pattern designer’s studio. Despite having already seen, and felt, the impressiveness of the labor, we were once again shown the intense amount of work put into these pieces; he had some of the jacquard loom punchcards and explained to us how some of the ornate works we saw in his studio, and at Tatsumura Co., used 40-80,000 cards, where 1 card corresponds to one thread across the piece.

Our last stop was at the home of a dyer; it is very rare that people not involved in the process or industry get to see what happens, so that was quite amazing. The place is run by two brothers, one of which was in the process of dying a fabric to meet a consumers color request. Okamoto-san showed us how he works, usually adding bits of color, only by eye, to reach the perfect combination of colors. I think today especially, we really got to see the importance of process. Though the preparation for Noh performance takes a significant amount of people, when we see it on the stage it is shrouded in a mystique; the power of yugen in full force. Today however, we got to hear the crash of the loom, the details from planned obi, the punchcards, the steam coming from the dying vat, etc.

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