All workshops which I have visited for sourcing were established some generations ago. They normally continue thanks to the hereditary system; eldest sons must take over. It was surely the case in the West in the past, but the obligation seems to be felt more strongly in Japan. It does not matter if it is the Japanese chrysanthemum throne or a potter, or a normal household. My brother’s name is “Masatsugu” which means legitimate/proper heir. Our father was the second son, but my brother was born just after our grandparents realised their eldest son’s wife could not bear a child. I, as a girl, was given a normal name which my mother liked. The tradition is changing not because of Feminist movements, but because of the low birth rate, which is even lower than Italy. It is taken more lightly in Tokyo, but I am from the western part of Japan near Kyoto where people behave in more conservative ways.
It is such a challenge to carry on with Japanese crafts. It is expensive as it is extremely labour intensive and Japan has been in recession since the 1990’s. Some, of course, give up. A few have tried to produce souvenir pieces at lower prices, which ended up competing with mass production of similar products from China. It is extremely sad to see this happen; the craftsmanship dies and tourists are denied to appreciate the true beauty of it though they should be blamed for demanding unrealistic prices. I think it is improving slowly to hit a middle point, especially in Kanazawa. I hope it spreads to the rest of Japan. And, a few studios go on to another level seeking craftsmanship in future.
I can often feel a level of energy in the air when I visit workshops. And, lively studios come up with innovative ideas. When I visited Sansai, I nearly felt electricity. It was just after a new year holiday. A man in his twenties whom I was meeting was wearing a kimono. He was dressed to visit important clients at the beginning of the year, an old tradition in Japan, while people in workshops, sample rooms and meeting rooms were buzzing around. The last master of the house, Sansai Saito revolutionised kimono design after he was trained under a famous Japanese ink painter. He set free kimono which normally carry a combination of Japanese traditional patterns and became its fashion designer. He started showing a collection of kimono introducing new combinations of colours and untraditional designs. Jotaro Saito, his son, continued with his legacy and launched a collection by collaborating with his father in Fashion Week in Tokyo. He has become the kimono designer of the generation whose works are exhibited in “Kyoto to Catwalk” at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which will be in their permanent collection. Jotaro Saito produced modern designs for kimono which appealed to the younger generation andas a boutique in Ginza along with international boutiques such as Vuitton and Gucci.