From Tokyo I took several trains out to one of the five famed Mount Fuji lakes – Kawaguchi. The first evening I made my way up via a cable car to view Mount Fuji against a clear sunset sky, but I was there particularly to see the work of Itchiku Kubota (1917-2003). The next day, past the Autumn colour festival (the maple was a vivid red by this time) I made my way to the uniquely designed museum. Opened in 1994, it represented Itchiku’s love of traditional craft and contemporary design with Gaudi influences.
Itchiku Kubota became known to me via a hazy and dated short documentary ‘A History on Silk’ from the 1990s (now recently replaced on YouTube by an updated version). I was captivated by the intense and laborious process of Tsujigahana silk dyeing he employed to achieve silk kimonos in 3D relief.
Tsujigahana was used to decorate elaborate kimono during the Muromachi Period (1333-1573). In his early twenties he was so inspired by a fragment of Tsujigahana textile exhibited at the Tokyo National Museum, that once he returned to Japan in his thirties, he devoted the rest of his life to recreating and mastering the technique. Since there were no instructions of how to recreate this age-old process, Kubota spent decades experimenting in order to form his own version of the method which he later coined “Itchiku Tsujigahana”.
Simply put, the technique is a complex form of shibori (tie dye) using fine stitch work to create patterns, or in Kubota’s case, vast Japanese landscapes through the four seasons. Dye is applied by brush, allowing the control to add gradient and depth.
It was fascinating to see an artist, craftsman, designer creating innovation from tradition and dedicating his time to perfect a lost art. It gives the UK textile industry hope, to regain our heritage in a contemporary and refined style.