The Washington Post has an article about how the old method of making kimonos from scratch is dying in Japan, particularly in Kyoto’s Nishijin district. Many are being made in China and those kimonos are made in Japan are woven with cheaper imported silk rather than Kyoto silk.
Here is the main problem:
Fewer Japanese are marrying today than ever, and those who do largely shun traditional white wedding kimonos in favor of Western-style dresses. A declining birthrate, meanwhile, has meant fewer babies, which in turn has meant fewer sales of kimonos for children’s coming-of-age rites. Nationwide, kimono sales have more than halved in the past decade.
The reporter uses 102-year-old Yasujiro Yamaguchi, one of the last master weavers in Nishijin, as a narrative focal point through the article. He is one of only three left who can create a kimono from scratch, which means planning and weaving it with his own hands to “infuse the intended wearer’s personality”. All three are over 70 and none have any apprentices.
The kimono is one of the few things that I can think of as distinctly Japanese alongside Shintoism and samurai. If one looks at the kanji for the word (着物), kimono literally means ‘something worn’. It’s a symbol of traditional Japan and subtle beauty. I think this quote from Yamaguchi says it best:
“The kimono is not just about our country,” [Yamaguchi] added. “It is about the Japanese race — our daily rituals, our history, our religion, about who we are as a people. We have to do anything we can to protect the kimono, even if that means making them overseas.”