Jan 16th: Nishijin Textile Industry

Today we were given an in-depth glance into the world of Japanese Textiles and how there are various components and staggeringly minute details that may go into one Obi, for example.

We visited Tatsumura-san first, and he introduced us to the complex work that goes into these textiles by showing us a few art pieces on display made using Nishijin textile techniques. I was impressed at how quickly (relatively speaking) these things could be made and was surprised to hear that a majority of the time “making” these things is actually spent on planning and mapping out their design.

Seeing the kind of work that goes into just one project made it quite evident that there was no one specialty that makes the textiles what they are–and Tatsumura Koho-san explained this quite well himself–Its an entire team of planners, designers, craftspeople and artists that must work collaboratively to make such impressive textiles. Tatsumura-san told us that depending on the project, a team could consist of up to 70 people, which just comes to  show how important collaboration is.

This “collaboration” of course isn’t one limited to people; the designs of these pieces are often inspired by other facets of Japanese culture (Like the beautiful piece inspired by Genji-monogatari) and sometimes simply by an appreciation for the beauty of nature (which, in my opinion, is itself another aspect of Japanese culture). I think I was most impressed by the diversity of sources of inspiration than any other aspect of these textiles. I simply couldn’t have known the amount of freedom and creativity some of these were made with. I think I honestly expected airplane seat covers and other rather dry patterns when I heard “textiles” and was rather surprised to see that most of the designs were extremely extravagant (some maybe even a little garish) to the point that I couldn’t even imagine them being used in actual clothes. Many of these were appropriately hung and displayed.

We were also given the opportunity to attempt weaving ourselves, which proved to be a surprisingly complex process (especially considering the relatively simple pattern and design they had us weaving). It made me appreciate the kind of work ethic and focus that would be required of even the more physical part of this creative process–even if the weavers didn’t think of the designs themselves, the weaving process must have taken a lot of mental focus and attention to detail otherwise the design could easily be ruined.

Visiting the silk dyers warehouse and the place where plans for textile designs came from was also a game changer for me. Although Tatsumura-san told us how many different people were involved in the process of making each textile, seeing the other places involved in that process really helped make a bigger picture of this industry in my mind. This is definitely an industry that is more steeped in good business practice and tradition rather than any one specific culture or religious affiliation, but I could see influences from all of that in every piece–which was truly impressive. I can see this industry being revolutionized with the introduction of more advanced technology. Considering the fact that most of their process is very analogue and completes such impressive pieces with technologies that are decades old, I think the introduction of new methods and hardware could really bring impressive change to this industry and increase its potential.

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