Do You Know This Traditional Japanese Art of Braiding Shown in ‘Your Name’?

  • Your Name (君の名は。) is now officially the highest-grossing anime film of all time. The continuous popularity and success of Makoto Shinkai’s (新海誠) soul-swapping, gender-bender fantasy movie inspired the creation of exclusively designed bus and travel tours, a limited themed cafe, and even a fancy jewelry line.

    The movie’s universal theme of love and longing touched the audiences worldwide and at the same time, allowed foreign viewers to take a peek at some of Japan’s cultural and religious activities. One of which is the art of traditional braiding called “kumihimo (組紐).”

    History of Kumihimo


    Kumihimo, meaning “gathered threads,” is a form of braid-making that produces long decorative interlaced strands. Very little is known about the history of kumihimo, but it is assumed that this braiding technique must have originated from China or Korea.

    In Japan, it started way back during the Nara (奈良) period, and over the years, the kumihimo cords have been used for various purposes. Some used the brightly colored ropes as instruments to expel evil spirits. At a time when Buddhism was dominant in Japan, monks performed braiding as a form of meditation and their exquisite products were used as temple interiors. The cords were also used to secure priestly robes and sutra scrolls.

    During the age of the samurais, the kumihimo cords became in demand as they serve as the rope that ties the iron plates of the samurai armor. They were also used to wrap sword hilts for better grip. The samurai culture declined in the Meiji (明治) period, but braid makers continued their business as kumihimo had become a small but invaluable part of the kimono. To this day, kumihimo cords are used for the decorative sash obi (belt; 帯) and the tassels of haori (kimono-like jacket; 羽織).

    Kumihimo Tools


    As the techniques and designs became more intricate, kumihimo soon required the aid of weaving tools. Braid makers started using the marudai, a wooden frame with four legs and a round top surface. It looks like a miniature stool. The weighted bobbins, called “tama,” and a bag of counterbalance bags rolled on the strands of threads form the ropes. The flat braiding frame that resembles a loom is called “takadai.” It was developed towards the end of the Edo (江戸) period.

    Kumihimo in the Present Day


    Now, more and more tourists include some specialty kumihimo shops as part of their itinerary. Asakusa (浅草) is one of the essential stops when planning a trip to Tokyo. Located on one of its many shopping streets is Kiryudo (桐生堂), a kumihimo store that opened in the 9th year of Meiji. Named after its founder’s hometown, Kiryudo offers mostly handmade Japanese jewelry, beautiful braided obi cords, kimono straps, and more.

    Several kumihimo kits for beginners are also available on Amazon. Handicraft enthusiasts can learn more about this braiding tradition and create their own personalized souvenirs. Valentine’s Day may have passed, but couples can still channel their inner Taki (瀧) and Mitsuha (三葉) and express their love that defies time and space by wearing a red kumihimo accessory.

    This braiding technique has been used in many countries since a long time ago. Thanks to Your Name, people’s interest in this declining tradition has increased. And the success of the film is far from over. Your Name has just gotten its schedule for a North American release and RADWIMPS who sang the original soundtrack also released an English version of the movie’s theme song.

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