When I returned to Kyoto in the autumn of 2014 after a 6-month sojourn in Los Angeles it was my friend Taka who helped me secure an apartment. His aunt, Kazuyo Kawamoto, owned an apartment building. He mentioned her vocation was something to do with a singular, traditional Japanese craft.
Shortly after settling in I scheduled an informal rendez-vous with Kawamoto-san in her atelier, two floors below my apartment. I wanted to see what she does. She pulled out some fabric with incredibly detailed beading on it. On closer inspection I realized it wasn't beading at all. It was hundreds and hundreds of tiny knots. Then she demonstrated the technique, an extraordinarily precise, rhythmic manipulation of thread and fabric. The concentration and patience required for this work was mind-blowing.
Kawamoto-san doesn't speak any English and at the time I spoke very little Japanese. I could appreciate the beauty of her work, and the tremendous dedication, but I didn't quite understand how this gorgeous fabric was used. What was the end product?
NHK (Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai, Japan's national public broadcasting network) hosts a weekly program called "Core Kyoto". It is a consistently engaging show highlighting the people and culture of contemporary Kyoto with deep roots in the city's history.
Last month there was an episode about Kyo-kanoko shibori - Japanese tie-dye. This is not your crude, rainbow whorl seen on countless Grateful Dead T-shirts. This is a painstaking, time-consuming art form dating back to the 7th Century. A bolt of fabric (36 X 1300cm) for a single kimono requires the labor of half a dozen specialized artisans and can take more than a year to complete.
This is what my landlord does for a living. She is one of only a handful of people in Japan that still plies this craft. She has been recognized by the Emperor for her skill. I've seen the medal of honor.
It's funny. I see Kawamoto-san almost everyday, walking her Shiba-inu, watering her plants. We chit-chat about the weather. I’ve had dinner with her and the family. She always makes me smile. She is "core Kyoto" and I'm lucky to know her.