Traditional Crafts of TokyoTraditional Crafts of Tokyo 東京の伝統工芸品

Tokyo Kumihimo

(Braided Cords)

Tokyo Kumihimo Photo

You can find professionals in Tokyo who live on only by plaiting cords.
Japan is reputed to be the home of some of the world’s most highly advanced braid-making techniques. Adoption of Japanese braid for its shoelaces by a world-leading sports shoe brand is a powerful endorsement for the Japanese industry’s technical strengths. Braiding developed as part of the manufacture of Samurai warrior armor, helmets and knotted sword handles. The robust braiding techniques, capable of producing materials that could withstand fierce fighting, have been passed down to today’s craftsmen. From the 17th century, braiding was also used to produce articles for everyday use, including Obijime (decorative string used to hold a Kimono sash in place), Netsuke (miniature carving attached to the end of a cord hanging from a pouch), and others. While KyotoKumihimo (braided cords) prefers splendor, having a background of noble court society, Tokyo Kumihimo features controlled colors, showing the influence of Samurai society and townsmen culture. Seasonal colors, reflecting the Japanese climate, provide the at- traction of fine patterns. Craftsmen take care to adjust the thread tightness, neither too tight nor too loose and they respect the significance of the braided meshes. Today, new braided products are being created, including cell phone lanyards and dog leashes. Production quantities are decreasing but many people still prefer the comfortable touch of silk material, designs that fit with modern fashion trends, and the robustness of the braided articles.
Main Areas of Manufacture Taito Ward, Suginami Ward, Kita Ward
Designation/ Certification Date February 4th, 1982 (Tokyo Certification)
Traditionally Used Raw Materials Raw silk thread, silk thread, gold or silver thread

Traditional Technologies and Techniques

  1. Plain dyeing, gradation dyeing and spaced dyeing are all techniques employed to dye the silk threads used in Tokyo Kumihimo (braided cords).
  2. Kumihimo cords are braided using yotsudai (four-bobbin) looms, kakudai (square) looms, marudai (round) looms, ayatakedai (bamboo) looms, shigeuchidai looms, takadai (high) looms, naikidai looms and kagouchi looms.
    ① With ayatakedai (bamboo) and takadai (high) looms, a beater is used to damp down the braid.
    ② When using either shigeuchidai or takadai (high) looms to produce braid, the patterns depend on the cat's cradle of threads created within the loom.
    ③ When using kagouchi looms, twisted yarn is the source of the braided threads used.

History and Characteristics

The Kumihimo craft is one that enjoys a long history, the products created by it having a range of applications. In that Kumihimo cords secure the modern kimono obi (belt) and the tassels of haori (short coats worn with kimono), they remain invaluable in our everyday lives being used in a variety of ways.

Kumihimo technologies and techniques originally came to Japan by way of China and Korea. Through the ages, they came to be used in a huge variety of products.

Kumihimo cords were used in many roles. When priests sought to spread the tenets of Buddhism, their sutra scrolls and priestly robes were secured with Kumihimo. The aristocracy used Kumihimo when wearing formal dress. With the rise of the warrior class in Japan, Kumihimo were used to secure helmets and armor. A flat-braided cord was also developed to wrap the hilts of samurai swords.

As the wearing of short sleeves became fashionable, in addition to the obi and waist sashes used when wearing kimono, Kumihimo cords became widely used as a means by which to secure obi, etc. Kumihimo cords could also be taken from where they lay over obi. They could then be wrapped and tied as to pull up (shorten) kimono sleeves.

Historically, the samurai practiced the craft of Kumihimo as part of their occupation. It is said that in Japan, this craft was so advanced as to be unusual internationally. However, such skills were not merely refined to just tie or secure items. Rather, braid patterns and the allocation of colors within cords made it possible for individuals to express their fortunes, their gender, and their social positions, etc.

Furthermore, with names such as "Koryouchi Chosen" (literally "Damped Braiding from the Koryo Dynasty in Korea), it can be assumed that various braid patterns came to Japan from mainland Asia and the Korean Peninsula.

Concerning the looms used to create Kumihimo cords, they can be categorized into seven types: kakudai (square) looms, marudai (round) looms, ayatakedai (bamboo) looms, shigeuchidai looms, takadai (high) looms, naikidai looms and kagouchi looms.

The patterns in which threads are combined as well as the sense of "wabi-sabi" conveyed (literally the "simplicity and refinement" projected by the colors used) are felt to be symbolic of Tokyo Kumihimo.

Contact Details

Manufacturing Area Cooperative Name Edo Kumihimo Manufacturing Guild
Address c/o Kiryudo Co., Ltd., 1-27-6 Kiyokawa,Taito Ward, Tokyo 111-0022
TEL 03-3873-2105