NIHONMONODiscovering Japan [Nihon] through authentic craftsmanship [Honmono]

Hidetoshi Nakata travels around Fukushima <#09> Arriving in Fukushima – “Traditional Kogei”

Hidetoshi Nakata travels around Fukushima <#09>
Arriving in Fukushima - “Traditional Kogei”

Kawamata machi has a long tradition of silk fabrics and has been the focus of global attention since a local fabric won the Monozukuri Nippon Grand Award in 2012. We visited Saiei Orimono Co., Ltd. which created the world’s thinnest silk fabric “Fairy Feather”, and continues to support advances in Kawamata Silk.

Reviving Kawamata Silk through innovation

“`Sendaihira` and `Yonezawaori` are better known silk products of Tohoku, but Fukushima also has a silk fabric industry.”
Nakata walks around the factory, observing the different processes. Next to him is Eita Sato, Managing Director at Saiei Orimono who explains that “Karume Habutae” developed in Kawamata when raw silk was very expensive as a way to produce quality silk fabric using as little silk thread as possible.
Currently there are about 20 weaving companies in Kawamata who carry on the tradition of producing thin, high quality silk.
“I’ve been told that in the textile industry overseas, the word `Kawamata` is equivalent to `Karume Habutae`.”
Saito joined the company that was started by his grandfather 17 years ago, when business was at its lowest.

“At the time, we had very few clients and our survival depended on one company, making us vulnerable to possible bankruptcy if they didn’t do well. We wanted to expand our potential so we began participating in exhibitions and trade opportunities, and even exporting to the US and Europe.”
They also began development of a product unique to their company, ultimately creating “the world’s thinnest and lightest pre-dyed silk fabric”. The product is a combination of the unique characteristics of Kawamata Silk and the pre-dyeing process that Saiei is known for.

They created prototypes using the finest thread available at the time, but customers were not impressed. Reexamining the raw thread that was being used, they developed a thread that is about one sixth the thinness of human hair, taken from cocoons made by silkworms that have only shed 3 times rather than the standard 4. The thread is so delicate that you can hardly feel it, and it was vulnerable to breaking. They proceeded to upgrade the looms, and succeeded in mass production after more than 2 years of research and development.

“Fairy Feather” was sold on the market exactly 1 year after the Great East Japan Earthquake. Email inquiries poured in after it was featured on a TV program, and phone calls filled 2 notebooks each day. That same year, it was awarded the Monozukuri Nippon Grand Award and the Good Design Award. Top brands began using their fabric, and Saito recalls being overcome by pride when his company’s products were displayed on store shelves. The next step? 100% silk fabric that is wrinkle free, stretches, and can be washed at home.

Nakata is enthusiastic about their efforts to create new products, but also hopes they will continue to preserve the Japanese kimono culture.
“I held an event where the dress code was `Yuzen` for women and `Hakama` for men, and it was well received. Many participants had kimonos made for the event, and I also purchase at least 1 outfit each year. I think it’s important for each region to not only create products but also provide opportunities, to create a balance of tradition and modernization.

ACCESS

Saiei Orimono Co., Ltd.
6-1 Baba Tsuruzawa Kawamatamachi Date-gun, Fukushima
URL http://saiei-orimono.com/eng/index.html