Sourcing Trip to Japan 2 – Getting Lost in Kyoto

Mizuhiki cord art

Visiting workshops in Kyoto is an adventure itself.  You may think it is easy to find a way in Kyoto as the major streets are laid out in a grid.  There are, however, little passages in between.  The city was built in the eighth century at the end of the day.  Addresses in the ancient part of Kyoto also look different from Japanese standard format, but are full of descriptions: “Go up street so and so, Shrine so and so”.  It is an actual address you find.  A full address can be “Go down from street so and in so and so area, Temple so and so, Right Kyoto district, Kyoto-City, Kyoto-Prefecture”.  It can be awfully long and the street or passageway which you are actually looking for often does not have a name.  Google has no clue either.

Despite that, I very much enjoy visiting shops and workshops in Kyoto whenever I go back to Japan.  I must have visited more nearly thirty workshops in Kyoto when I was looking for a new range of products which were not as expensive as the original range.  I realised it was not sustainable until I found my feet.  I carefully selected them before I approached them, however, Kiyomizuyaki pottery by Goun  was the only one which made it to our collection.  Therefore, it seems, I was just enjoying getting lost in Kyoto.

Mizuhiki cord art  which is another form of ancient crafts looked fascinating and I believed it had lots of potential for an accessory range.  Mizuhiki cord is made of paper and very fine on its own.  Originally it was used to tie up hair, but it came a long way since.  Mizuhiki cords are pliable, being made of tightly twined washi paper and stiffened with starch based glue.  They are still used to make embellishment for wrapping cash, mainly, as a gift for wedding and funerals; colours and the shapes have specific meaning appropriate for the occasions.  Mizuhiki craftsmen explore freely these days and make other accessories as well as objets d’art.  You would be amazed by huge auspicious birds, bonsai trees and ships can be made out of paper cords.  I visited a tiny workshop in an apartment building.  I thought napkin rings would be a great idea, however, sadly it did not materialise.  Partially because I did not communicate well to make the supplier understand the styling of posh dinner parties.  They have their own ideas as they become more like an artist rather than craftsman.   


furoshiki and mizuhiki crane

Another contender was Furoshiki, wrapping cloth in Japan.  If you didn’t know, Japanese like wrapping.  If you are invited to a wedding, you will bring cash in a white decorative envelope with mizuhiki cord embellish as seen in the feature image, and wrap it in a small version of furoshiki which is called fukusa.  People would bring a gift (which is already in a wrapping paper!) wrapped in furoshiki often with family crests.  I used to buy a bunch of wrapping paper at Christmas through school to support a charity as well as school, however, I never liked the idea.  I thought this ecologically friendly way of wrapping should be exported to the UK.  How about introducing Furoshiki along with Christmas trees which you can rent?  It is reusable and requires no cellotape!  I had so much fun visiting a showroom of Musubi in Kyoto.  While they still make furoshiki with traditional patterns dated back to the seventh century, they excelled at new designs.  I particularly liked reversible ones: one design is dominant while the other peeps through when you make a knot.  I always find it difficult to wrap wine bottles and resort to a gift bag.  However, furoshiki solves the problem as long as you know how to wrap (watch this video!).  That’s what Youtube is for!  It is a clever idea that furoshiki cloth can become a part of the gift.  However, I realised Furoshiki could not fit right into the existing brand of Biden and I had to let go of the idea. 

Furoshiki wrapping 2


Kuniko Thompson

Kuniko Thompson

Founder of Biden Designs established in 2008. She is passionate about creating beautiful interiors working with designers, architects and Japanese craftsmen.

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