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Nishijin-ori is widely known as a silk fabric of the finest quality. Its beginnings date back to the Kofun period, although the fabric is believed to have been named "Nishijin-ori" after the "Onin War" in Kyoto during the Muromachi period. Featuring stunning designs created with advanced technology and precise calculations, Nishijin-ori is one of Japan's leading traditional crafts with a history of over 1000 years as it flourished as part of Kyoto's court culture. Italy's emerging sneaker brand "URBAN SUN" has recently incorporated the use of Nishijin-ori in its collaboration works to create innovative products. We visited Naoyuki Kamiya of Kamiya Corp., the person who facilitated this collaboration, as well as the Nishijin-ori craftsman Shigeharu Nakae.

Naoyuki Kamiya

Shigeharu Nakae

Exploring forms of expression that will generate new demands for traditional crafts

"We have always sought to explore new forms of expression that will generate new demands for traditional crafts," said Kamiya, who got to know the Italian sneaker brand URBAN SUN through an acquaintance when he was finding ways to share the possibilities of Nishijin-ori with the rest of the world. When Kamiya approached the brand, the first thing he told them was that they are free to create any design they wish and that they are not limited to using traditional Japanese patterns. That was a decisive factor in this collaboration. It turned out that there was a strong consensus between Kamiya, who wanted to break new ground by creating products and designs that challenge the traditional image of Nishijin-ori, and URBAN SUN, which wanted to embark on something different from the sneakers they had produced in the past.

"We made these sneakers because we wanted to produce something different from the traditional image of Nishijin-ori textile strips, and create a product that can be easily accepted for everyday use. We wanted a design that is not immediately reminiscent of Nishijin-ori at first glance, so we came up with this camouflage pattern. We had also wanted to avoid traditional Japanese designs known as yusoku-monyo and go for something that has never been depicted before. This is because of our strong conviction that by doing this, we can showcase the powerful aesthetic possibilities of Nishijin-ori and expand its growth potential in the rest of the world. "

However, these ideas of Kamiya were initially deemed to be impractical by Nakae in terms of actual fabric production. The fabric Kamiya initially had in mind needed yarn of five to six different colors. However, Nakae believed that it would have been difficult to use the resulting fabric in sneakers as incorporating such a large number of different yarns would create a thick fabric that creases easily. In view of this, efforts were made to repeatedly modify the fabric by reducing the number of yarns as well as changing their thickness and color, which eventually gave rise to the current three-color fabric that is ideal for sneakers. Even the craftsmen of URBAN SUN in Italy were impressed by the excellent quality of the final fabric, and the Nishijin-ori sneakers were included as part of the brand's lineup in Italy as well.

The value of Nishijin-ori lies in its "technique"

Nishijin-ori differs from other textiles in the expressive power of its highly intricate designs. "Nishijin-ori is all about weaving a design from scratch," said Nakae. "Other woven fabrics often involve methods such as changing the warp threads to create designs or post-dyeing the woven fabric, but Nishijin-ori uses pre-dyed yarn to weave the design. As Nishijin-ori was traditionally supplied to certain privileged classes and the upper echelons of society such as aristocratic families and temples, the fabric is woven in an extremely laborious and technique-intensive way. One unique attribute of Nishijin-ori that sets it apart from other textiles is the freedom it gives you to weave your desired design using yarns of varying thicknesses. You can even weave characters using this technique. In fact, since ancient times, Nishijin-ori was never founded on the idea that it must only feature traditional Japanese patterns. Rather, its emphasis is on the technique and skills, which can be applied to weave any design. That is what Nishijin-ori is all about. "

Kamiya also sees Nishijin-ori as a form of "technique." "Nishijin-ori used to be exclusively woven from silk in the past, but we are now also using synthetic fibers such as polyester. Of course, it is true that there are some debates as to whether a fabric made from polyester can still be regarded as Nishijin-ori. Some people say that fabrics that are not actually made from silk cannot be called Nishijin-ori, but I disagree because I believe that Nishijin-ori is unique for its technique instead of its underlying material or design. In fact, the only way we can pass on Nishijin-ori to future generations is to go beyond silk and incorporate the use of yarn made from other materials in weaving Nishijin-ori. If we do that, we will be able to lower its price and create a material that has more diverse applications. Nishijin-ori will remain expensive if we insist on using silk only, which will make it challenging for the fabric to cater to new demands. In addition to aesthetic value, we also want to create something that can be used from day to day. What can we do to expand the possibilities of the technique of Nishijin-ori? That is the perspective from which we often approach this problem. In that sense, what I have said is also true for these sneakers. For instance, if we use Nishijin-ori to make T-shirts and jackets, it is surely the best proof of its expressive power for us to be creating items that Nishijin-ori was never used to create in the past. Through these efforts, we can showcase the magnificent potential for aesthetic expression of Nishijin-ori as well as its unique texture that is completely different from print and embroidery work. "

Kamiya's ultimate goal is to make use of this product to draw more attention to Nishijin-ori and other traditional Japanese crafts. He hopes to modernize valuable traditional crafts in a way that would allow them to be used in the everyday life of people living today. Far from being a devaluation of traditional crafts, the evolution of these crafts transforms them into materials that can serve the diverse needs of consumers. Craftsmanship used to be an industry that supported the lives of people in the region before it became a tradition and culture to be preserved. By revisiting its role in the past, we can bring local crafts to the rest of the world while generating new demands. This will contribute to regional revitalization, which will in turn be beneficial for the revitalization of Japan as a country. Most of the world's luxury brands were originally local traditional industries in Europe which have since evolved to address the changing needs of the times. In a world where things are becoming increasingly homogenized by economic and technological development, perhaps passing on the richness of such traditions to future generations is one of the best ways to offer humans a sense of genuine satisfaction.


The Tango Peninsula is located at the northernmost tip of Kyoto prefecture. This peninsula which faces the Sea of Japan and is surrounded by the beauty of nature is home to "Amanohashidate," one of the three scenic spots of Japan, among other famous sightseeing spots. Nakae's workshop on the hill offers great views of the horizon of the Sea of Japan.

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