Before I read an English version in the Japan Times this week of an article that originally ran in the Chunichi Shinbun newspaper, I had admittedly begun to take black crested formal kimono for granted. As elegant as they are, I’ve seen hundreds of used kimono like this at Kyoto’s famed monthly markets at Toji Temple and Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. The markets are affectionately referred to by locals as Kobosan and Tenjinsan and are held on the 21st and 25th of every month respectively.
I’ve bought many of these formal black kimono over the years for resale, and the prices are always very reasonable because when Japanese people do buy vintage kimono for wear or projects these days, this type is of relatively limited use. As formal kimono they include family crests, and it’s always interesting to look at a crest to see if it’s an often seen one or not. There are hundreds of crests, with many that look quite similar with small variations. Some crests are more common in certain parts of Japan, so there is a geographical component to them as well. I’ve browsed lots of reference books on kamon as the crests are known in Japanese. My favorite is the well worn one on my bookshelf now, Family Crests of Japan.
Other than the crests, well, black is elegant, but black’s black, or so I’ve always thought. That’s what was so enlightening about the story about a Nagoya dye company and the two brothers who are striving to adapt to a changing marketplace. It turns out that traditionally made black crested kimono have an especially deep tone which includes just a bit of blue and red. They are shokunin-true craftsmen!
Living as I do in Nishijin, traditionally Kyoto’s weaving center, I’m well acquainted with the challenges that traditional kimono and obi makers face, and I’ve seen numerous attempts at changing their product lines to combat sagging sales as fewer and fewer Japanese wear kimono. I’ve even seen dog wear made of silk brocade of the type traditionally associated with fine obi.
Nagoya’s Nakamura brothers are betting that their dyeing and designing skills will make such new products such as t-shirts and stoles appealing to a new generation. Other companies, including at least one in Kyoto, specialize in dyeing their clients’ old clothes black. Which seems like another great way to put traditional skills to use, and also to give used clothing a new lease on life.
I didn’t know that Nagoya has long been a center of kuro-montsuki black crested kimono dyeing. But thanks to this article, I looked and in no time ran across an informative English video about another Nagoya dyeing company! This one is run by the Takeda family. Mr. Takeda is seen below dyeing various kimono, and the focus shifts to black dyeing and family crests just after the five-minute mark.
Originally posted 2017-03-22 15:14:57.