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The Breathtaking Hand-Sewn Embroidery That Colors the Floats

Hello! I run a group whose goal is to communicate the charms our city has to offer by promoting the annual fall festivals that are held throughout the region. The festivals have now been abandoned for two years in a row, with both the 2020 and 2021 events cancelled due to COVID-19. Fortunately, this has given me the opportunity to interview some local artisans in their home studios. Banshu's fall festivals are known for their “yatai”, a traditional parade float combined with a palanquin. The yatai here are decorated in a much more extravagant way than those of other areas. I have seen these floats countless times since I was young, and to be honest, I used to take them for granted, but now I would like to take a moment to highlight the workers behind the crafts that are such an important part of our festival.

The Breathtaking Hand-Sewn Embroidery That Colors the Floats

Embroidery Master: Sadahiro Kawamura of Kawamura Embroidery*

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Embroidery Master

Sadahiro Kawamura – Head of Kawamura Embroidery

Born in Himeji in 1978, Sadahiro Kawamura became an apprentice to his father, Masayoshi Kawamura, in the year 2000. Kawamura Embroidery was founded by Sadahiro's father and employs a traditional embroidery technique of the Banshu region. They have been faithfully creating embroidered designs of dragons, tigers and human figures since 2010. The decorative embroidery for the yatai and taiko-drum floats in Otsu-ku, Himeji were specially crafted by Kawamura Embroidery. Each part was designed with care, including the "korankake," which covers the seat for the taiko drummer, the "mizuhikimaku," a curtain that decorates the top of the yatai, the "datetsuna," thick woven ropes that sway as the float moves, and the "norikojuban,” festive embroidered tops worn by the taiko drummers, as well as many other gorgeous festival costumes.

The power, gorgeousness, and beauty of these hand-sewn items are an indispensable part of the Banshu festival, and this tradition is being faithfully preserved by Kawamura Embroidery to this day.

If you have never seen the festival parade, please refer to the image below to understand the Japanese terms used in this article.

Every time I watch the yatai pass by, I think to myself "How much time does it take to create these wonderful embroideries?”, “How much money does it cost?" This is what I wanted to learn from Mr. Kawamura.

Q: Can you tell me how much time and money it takes to make the korankake?

A: I cannot give you an exact figure, but it's expensive (laughs). As far as time goes, I would say it takes about a year for a single korankake. Every last thing is done by hand.

Q: Oh! Apologies for starting off with a question about money! Could I ask how you get the embroidery to look so plump and full? It looks so much more three-dimensional than simple thread or even regular embroidery.

A: I copy the design onto Japanese paper and then sew in the cotton. Then come the gold, red, and other threads. The critical point here is the thread twist, specially made, so that when twisted it allows for subtle expressions in the color matching.

Q: Wow, this golden piece… The look in its eye is so powerful and moving.

A: Even just a single eye is packed with techniques. This one was made by a glassblower who used a special process to cut it in half, you can’t do it any other way.

Q: How do customers place orders? Do they just ask for something "amazing," or do they ask you to make something that "stands out from ones in other villages," for example?

A: We get two kinds of orders here, restorations, and new designs. For the former, I refer to samples or items from the village in question. In the past there were many requests for restorations. Recently, though, there has been an increasing demand for unique items. So, fresh, custom design requests have been on the rise.

These new designs are based off themes, such as charms to protect against evil or plagues. I am constantly doing literary research in order to fulfill the sheer variety of orders that come in.

Q: Do you ever get orders where the client goes, "This would be cool! And this too! Oh, everything, please!" Essentially, they have no idea what they really want?

A: In Japanese culture there are many cases where pattern combinations are already decided.For example, bamboo with tigers, lions with peonies, and so on. So, I always make sure to let the customer know if a combination seems strange.

The studio is filled with designs and old-looking books. A rough sketch is made on Japanese paper, and then the sewing is done by hand - around twelve people diligently stitch over many days to finish the product. These days, more and more workshops are turning to machines for their sewing, but Mr. Kawamura is deservedly proud of the way he keeps this traditional technique alive.

From the Participants

Hiroko, a festival lover

The design is first drawn onto Japanese paper, then the work is done by hand. The cotton is sewed in first, and then the threads, to create a three-dimensional effect.

Mr. Kawamura demands that all parts be hand-sewn even if they cannot be seen. You can really feel the pride of the craftsmen in this technique, knowing that the beauty of the piece will remain unchanged no matter what angle the design is viewed from. Life has been breathed into each piece stitch by stitch.

Riku, an aspiring artisan (14 years old student) I’m interested in archaeology, so I was surprised by all the old materials here in the workshop. When I was chosen as one of the yatai riders, wearing such gorgeously embroidered costumes made me feel amazing, almost as if I was living in a dream. That ride changed my view of not only the yatai itself, but also the embroidery that makes them shine. I cannot wait for next year!





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