Our last day in Kyoto and our first interview of the day is with Kenji Tsujimoto, the director of Kawashima Selkon Textiles Co Ltd’s museum.
He told us a bit about its long history after the company was began in 1843 by Jinbei Kawashima. The second generation of the company (Jimbei Kawashima ll) was inspired by European textiles and ancient tapestries after his many visits to Europe.
Kawashima Selkon co is a very big company, occupying many buildings on the outskirts of the city, currently employing over 1000 people. It is pretty unique in that they do hand and machine weaving all in one business, around 40/50 people do the weaving by hand and they also do all the dyeing of the thread and have an extensive private museum of their accomplishments which contains over 160,000 items collected over the 173 years it has been open.
They make small and extremely large weavings, speciality tapestries, theatre curtains and specialized woven recreations of works of art.
They also run Kawashima textile school, short weaving courses for international studenst or graduation students in Japan. The aim is to help create the next generation of weavers.(It was established for originally but nowadays more and more students are so serious to learn) I found it interesting that when we asked more about the students who want to learn to weave, Mr Tsujimoto talked about the common fact that most of them have worked or are working for a business or city firm and decided they need a way out and through the courses they provide, many of them quit to become full time weavers which is very promising for the future of the trade.
It was particularly interesting to watch both the hand and machine weaving in motion, two completely different worlds residing under the same roof. Machine weaving, where the bobbins are about the same size of me, and the huge machines work away churning out 2 to 3 metres per hour requiring perhaps 5 or 6 staff to either press the go button or attend when the red warning light comes on signalling a problem. And in contrast the hand weaving which is so intricate and time consuming it takes 1 person at the machine every day over 3 months to make one obi belt and is entirely driven by hand. – we were allowed to take a few pictures here but not of any of the work in progress which is why they are close up.
We were taken to see the dyeing room where they dye all the silk thread. The room faces North to prevent the sun coming in and distorting the colouring process.
The huge commissions such as theatre curtains will need to be worked on this loom which is the biggest weaving machine in Japan and the whole reason why Kawashima needed to relocate from the city of Kyoto to the suburbs, where a special building was built for purpose. A whole curtain will be woven by several employees working on different sections at the same time and will weigh a whole ton when completed. Picture below is one theatre curtain in working progress.
Kawashima was the first Japanese company to receieve a Royal Warrant, and they have worked on many pieces for the Royal family and exhibited all over the world.
When we walked around the museum it was pretty breathtaking to see the detail and sheer brilliance of Kawashimas work over the years, particularly the tapestries which were often 6×5 metres in size. There were so many works of art that I walked past and did a double take as I suddenly realised, when close up that the pieces are actually woven recreations of some of the most famous works of art in the world. Some of the tapestries are so intricately detailed, they contain over 100 species of birds and plants. It was interesting to see the combination of European and Japanese influences in a lot of the work. They have a licence to weave William Morris designs and had a large exhibition of curtains in his famous ‘strawberry thief’ print. Again we were unable to take any photos of any of the work in the museum due to strict regulations which is a shame as the work was some of the finest I have ever seen.