Philippe Bourget - 2012-09-15
In Kanazawa, a town in eastern Japan famous for its traditions, artisan Ikkou Teranishi is the living embodiment of the art of Kaga Yuzen: a technique specific to this region of producing high quality kimonos. We pay a visit to his workshop where silk craftsmanship reaches the very summits of grace and finesse.
Ikkou Teranishi is an affable and exquisitely polite man despite having a busy schedule. He doesn’t mention it, but he probably finds it ironic to have to explain the subtleties of his art to a visiting journalist in such a short time when it takes weeks or even months to make just one kimono. Japan has not lost the habit of slow precision, a delicate pace that allows a craftsman to work according to the rules of ancient Japanese traditional artisanship. This is always a surprise for visitors accustomed to the frantic tempo imposed by the modern economy into which the country has been thrown body and soul since the end of World War II.
Imbued with wisdom and serenity, Ikkou Teranishi’s workshop is like a living museum. In a bright room, the exhibited kimonos are breathtaking. Incredible fineness of lines, gracious motifs, harmonious colours; each item is unique, exceptional with exemplary finishing.
The Kaga Yuzen art of kimono making was introduced into the region in the early 18th century. It is characterized by an original manufacturing technique. The craftsman (or should we say the artist) successively draws, colours, dyes, steams and washes the silk. This was commonly performed (although rarely nowadays) in water of Kanazawa’s two rivers - the Sai and Asano.
Kaga Yuzen is also distinguished by its distinctive design, halfway between realism and geometric ornamentation. In the style of a romantic painting it concentrates on reproducing images of traditional Japan: flowers, trees, birds, mountain scenery. Most importantly it strives to create a harmony between the kimono and the person who wears it, expressing a sense of modesty and gentleness which characterises the manners of Japanese social relationships.
£8000 for a Kimono
For all these reasons, the value of a Kanazawa kimono is priceless. It has the same standing as the Kyoto brocades woven using the Nishiki technique and is sought after for weddings and important ceremonies.
Ikkou Teranishi, heir to a dynasty of respected artisans and recipient of several awards, creates no more than four or five kimonos per year. He also manufactures kakemono (strips of silk fabrics that hang on walls) and noren (curtains that hang over doorways). The price of a traditional kimono is equal to the quality of it craftsmanship and costs at least £8000. However some require up to six months of patient work and are worth much more. Approximately two hundred workshops in the area of Kanazawa perpetuate the Kaga Yuzen tradition. They produce little more than 800 to 1 000 kimono products per year, hence the need for customers to order early. As for the tourists, they get an opportunity to dream a little: Ikkou Teranishi allows visiting ladies to try on a kimono and even go out on the town with it!