Tethering the Edo Spirit with Kumihimo by Ryukobo
In the early 17th century the architect of Edo, now Tokyo, shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu was responsible for setting in motion the steps that would see a small castle town expand to become the sprawling metropolis we now know and admire. In his very first year of being proclaimed Shogun in 1603 he was to build the Nihombashi bridge, the literal center point of Edo and where all the roads from the outer provinces convened, giving birth in the process to the hub of merchant culture from which the Nihombashi area developed. But that wasn't all, Ieyasu also gathered artisans to the area, orchestrating the delicate balance between fine materials and the masters who could give them form that continues to this very day. Indeed, the backstreets of Nihombashi continue to play home to this creative class, who from their ateliers produce world class items that are always in sync with the era.
Nowhere is this more apparent than Ryukobo, an atelier to the east of the area and specialist in hand-woven kumihimo, a particularly fine and precise form of silk braiding that cannot be replicated by machine. With some techniques requiring a lifetime to master and even an experienced craftsmen only capable of producing some ten centimeters of the more intricate weaves in a day. These skills are currently in the hands of head of Ryukobo Takashi Fukuda passed down from his own father and will one day be in the hands of his son, Ryuta Fukuda and nephew Shigeki Hayashi. The atelier's over 120 years of history has seen them dress masters of the tea ceremony as well as a whole host of Kabuki actors, but they are also equally at home with popular models. Most recently the kumihimo is featured in seminal anime "Kimi no Na wa" or "Your Name" in English, and in the film it takes a pivotal role. The two protagonists are tethered by the braid which they wear as a bracelet and hair tie respectively, bonding the two characters with the craft, also bridging kumihimo to a new global audience.
This adaptability to the times is at the core of kumihimo's ongoing popularity as well as its practicality, in the past finding the elastic and sound cord binding the plates of Japanese samurai armor, or else the cord that holds the obi belt closed over a kimono and used as the decorative closure for a haori jacket. Needless to say these traditions continue, but they are joined by ideas from apprentice Ryuta's generation such as using the cord as a city chic bracelet or camera strap, and even as the case for a pen as part of the Tokyo Teshigoto project.
Perhaps the next evolution is one of transmission with the Ryukobo atelier holding workshops abroad, most recently at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, but also expanding their activities beyond their Nihombashi atelier in advance of 2020. Visitors to the Nihombashi Mitsukoshi store can see for themselves the intricate cord in its traditional form in the Gofuku Kimono Section as well as various modern forms fit for the iki chic of contemporary Tokyo elsewhere in store.