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This is a past article published in Hiragana Times. Each Japanese paragraph is followed by its English translation or vise versa, and furigana are placed above each kanji to make Japanese study even easier. [Magazine Sample] [Subscription Page]

Aloha Shirts a la Kimono: Transcending Techniques of the Past

[From May Issue 2011]

Kamedatomi Corporation

Located in Ukyo-ku, Kyoto City, the Kamedatomi Corporation started out as a dyeing factory for kyou-yuuzen (delicate patterned fabric) kimonos in 1919. Today, Kamedatomi is regaining popularity for their Hawaiian aloha shirts made using traditional kimono patterns. Initially, over 100 employees worked at the factory when kimonos were still in demand. But as the kimono-wearing population decreased, so too did their business start to diminish, and from around 1989, 100% of their factory-dyed fabrics were used for western clothing.

Kamedatomi Corporation president KAMEDA Kazuaki’s long-term goal was to revive the several thousand treasured designs now being stored in the company’s collection. So, after learning about Japanese immigrants in Hawaii who started making aloha shirts from their old kimonos, he decided to try it out for himself. “When I wore it to the Kamogawa Noryo festival, my shirt got a lot of attention,” he explains. And thus began the aloha shirt manufacturing business, his tough road to success.

Kamedatomi Corporation sometimes uses over 20 different color shades to express its intricate kimono designs. The dyeing process starts when his craftsmen measure the exact amount of dye and glue to be used for keeping the color intact. Next, the cloth is laid out on a nasendai, or dyeing table, where a stencil is used to hand dye the colors. Endurance and perseverance are necessary as the dying process for a full, 30-meter piece of material restarts for each newly added color. Additionally, over Japan’s scorching summers this process usually takes place in rooms where temperatures can reach more than 40 degrees Celsius.

Prices for silken aloha shirts, which range in size from SS to LL for both men and women, start from 18,900 yen. They are not mass-produced because they are all hand-dyed, and are currently only available in stores, not online. Each shirt comes with an explanation about its own pattern or symbolic design, including ryuujin (dragon god).

This homage to kabuki style further gave Kameda the opportunity to host a hand-drawn performance, in English, of the “Sukeroku Yukari-no Edo-zakura” (Flower of Edo) at a Singaporean Isetan store. The images, created by employees of the Kamedatomi Corporation, were positively received by the audience of both young and old alike. During the summer, Kameda’s good fortune continued as a film director helped recreate a full-sized haunted mansion set, which was then opened for free to the public. Kameda wanted the haunted mansion to be more than just scary, he wanted it to be artistically enjoyable, so he covered the walls with yuuzen-dyed fabric.

Kameda has also organized many other events including a fashion show at a car dealership. This past January, he and fashion designer KATSURA Yumi co-designed an evening dress which was then submitted to the Paris Collection Haute Couture.

Says Kameda, “I am most concerned with how we can satisfy our customers and not how we can sell our products.” Kameda believes that the sky’s the limit when it comes to the idea of mixing traditional and contemporary techniques.

Kamedatomi Corporation

Text: KAWARATANI Tokiko


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