【Edo Tokyo Rethink】Tokyo Kumihimo Ryukobo: The Charm of Kumihimo, a Braided Rope that Intertwines Past and Future
In last year’s EDO TOKYO RETHINK exhibition, a special “kumihimo” braided rope was featured as the collaboration between contemporary artist Noritaka Tatehana and kumihimo artisans Ryukobo. The collaboration, which received critical acclaim for its combination of “traditional craft and innovative expression,” is currently on permanent display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Upon visiting Ryukobo’s Fukuda Ryūta who will be taking part in the exhibition, a year after the previous exhibition, he immediately asked “What do you think I am braiding?”
The current challenge for Ryūta, who believes that “anything that isn’t water or air can be braided” and is constantly searching for new possibilities in kumihimo, is a braid that uses leather. The gradation created through the “synthesis” of leather barely a few millimeters wide and silk yarn allows for a beauty that takes one’s breath away.
Following this display, Ryūta spoke about the Sericulture (Raising Silkworms) in Edo Association that is scheduled to start this year. Behind this association is a sense of crisis as the sericulturists who produce the silk yarn needed for kumihimo are vanishing. According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture、Forestry and Fisheries (new sericulture industry policy), while the number of sericulturists stood at 2,210,000 in 1929 (Showa 4), today only 300 houses continue the craft, with national silk yarn production falling to 0.2%.
With the plan that they would first teach children in the Nihonbashi district (where Ryukobo is based) about silk yarn, Ryūta came up with the idea for the association together with his father Takashi Fukuda, known as one of the few master-artisans living today. When going around to silkworm cultivators with the idea, they found a warm and eager reception.
On their return, Takashi, who is also the chairman of Nihonbashi’s neighbourhood association, began to speak. “When I patrolled the streets with others to warn the neighbourhood of fires, it would always bring the children joy to see me carrying sweets with me.” As he spoke, the sound of the fire patrol’s wooden clappers rang out in the air. It was a moment where one could catch a glimpse of “Nihonbashi” history, a land where traditions have been carried on from adult to child, from today to tomorrow.
This year’s EDO TOKYO RETHINK will once again feature a collaboration between EDO TOKYO RETHINK and Noritaka Tatehana. With each new form of kumihimo created, the difficulty of its production is intensified. However, during the meeting where he gave a demonstration of his work, Ryūta expressed his desire to “dedicate all my strength” to the craft. Perhaps it is this never-ending spirit of challenge that has allowed the techniques of kumihimo to continue evolving even today, with an eye on what the future might bring.
Photo by Satomi Yamauchi
*Top image: Photo by GION
*All necessary safety precautions were taken during the interview as part of COVID-19 prevention.
Online Exhibition Outline
Exhibition Title: Edo Tokyo Rethink -The Future of Traditional Industries Represented by Art in the Former Iwasaki House Garden-
Exhibition Period: March 24, 2022 (Thu) 14:00 – March 31, 2022 (Thu)
*The exhibition will be available for viewing as an archive at the same URL even after the online exhibition ends.
Organizer: Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Edo-Tokyo Kirari Project
Co-organizer: Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association