ikebana to tea ceremony, many of Japan's cultural arts are char-acterised
by an outward simplicity which belies the preciseness of the craft.
Perhaps one of the most representative of these such arts is the
Edo Komon. Valued by the upper class during the rule of the shogun,
Edo Komon is cloth from which the clothing of lords was once made.
The fabric is deceptive to the eye - from a distance, it appears
plain and unpatterned, but examination up close reveals intricate
patterns formed by fine dots.
Although widely popular through-out the Edo Period, the demand for
Edo Komon has declined in the last century, and there are now only
a handful of artisans remaining in Japan with the skills to produce
this fabric. In Fukushima Prefecture, Yukio Watanabe and his son
Yukinori of Sukagawa City have been working to keep this tradition
alive, continuing what has been the family busi-ness for the last
With competition from machine made fabrics proving tough, the Watanabes,
like many other Edo Komon producers, have had to innovate to find
new markets for their product. The fabric is tra-ditionally used
in making kimono and yukata, and as the hand printed silk fabric
is of high quality, a kimono usually ranges in price from 500,000
yen to 1,000,000 yen, approximately double the price of a garment
made from ma-chine printed fabric. In diversify-ing their busi-ness,
the pair have turned some of their focus to producing Edo Komon
prints, which feature everything from landscapes to inspirational
phrases. The framed panels, which retail from approximately 3,000
yen, have boosted business, with customers able to enjoy the subtlety
of the art at a more afford-able price.
It is said that it takes ten years to master the art of Edo Komon.
A delicate process requiring a steady hand and a good eye, one panel,
measuring 6.5 me-tres in length, takes four to five days to complete.
Over this time, several stages are carried out. The first stage
involves the painting of the design onto the fab-ric. This is done
using patterns made from paper thin slices of wood with in-tricate
designs pricked into them using pins. The pattern is placed on top
of the fabric and a blue paint made from rice powder is applied
using a thin wooden scraper.
Once the paint is dry, the fabric is dyed the colour requested by
the customer, steam dried at 100 degrees, then washed in cold water.
This rinses out the original blue dye, leaving a pattern of white
dots on the now coloured fabric. After drying the fabric once again,
the craftsman starts the painstaking process of correct-ing imperfections
in the pattern by hand. This is by far the most difficult stage
of the process and it reveals the true skill of the craftsman. After
being washed and dried one more time, the process is complete.
The Watanabes have been working hard to raise the profile of the
Edo Komon in Fukushima, and in 1997, Yukio Watanabe was presented
with the prestigious Fukushima Prefectural Traditional Crafts Award.
The pair also appear regularly in national publications, and receive
many of their orders for kimono through magazines. In a time where
many of the techniques of old artisans have been lost over the decades,
one hopes that the work of the Watanabes and their fellow craftsmen
will ensure the Edo Komon lives on.