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Knitting Boom Spurred On by Male Designer

November 21, 2000
Every fall the hobbies section of bookstores is lined with books and special issues of fashion magazines on knitting. Most covers feature female models wearing hand-knit garments, but here and there the smiling image of a handsome middle-aged man dressed in an elegant sweater can be seen. This man--Mitsuharu Hirose, an immensely popular knitwear designer and instructor--has been dubbed the "prince of the knitting world."

Alone in a Woman's World
Charisma (karisuma in Japanese) is currently a hot word in Japan. It is used loosely to refer to individuals who excel in a specific area and are popular especially among young people. The term was first applied to beauticians, but it has come to include aestheticians and other fashion figures, and even salesclerks at boutiques. Hirose is a knitwear designer with karisuma.

No other men stand out in Japan's handicrafts field--overwhelmingly a women's world, in which male instructors are hardly ever heard of. But, notes Hirose, "in medieval Europe, knitting was a man's job."

Hirose's interest in knitting goes back to his elementary school days, when a toy known as ririan, with which children can easily make braided cords, was very popular. Giving it a shot, he discovered he was clever with his hands. The first knitwear he completed was a sweater that he made as a high schooler, following the instructions in a book; Hirose wanted a sweater to take on a school trip and decided to make it himself. Having learned the joy of knitting, he enrolled in a vocational school of handicrafts as its first male student. After graduating he joined a publisher of fashion magazines, where he has been involved in editing magazines and leading training courses for knitting instructors.

Going on the Air
In 1993, Hirose began regularly appearing on a television show as its knitting instructor. He was instantly popular, owing in part to the fact that he contradicted the stereotype of knitting instructors as middle-aged or elderly women, and the TV network was flooded with fan letters and queries.

Hirose's reputation derives not only from his amazing knitting skills but also from his original designs, aimed at making knitwear that people would really want to wear. His good looks and gentle speech, moreover, have earned him the nickname "prince of the knitting world." All this has made him a media favorite, and he receives many interview requests from TV shows and magazines. He travels all over the country, giving classes and appearing on talk shows nearly every day. He is also a board member of an association that promotes knitting.

Recently even knitwear made from such traditionally expensive materials as cashmere has become quite affordable in Japan, leading to a big drop in the number of people who knit their own clothes. Hirose's fame has touched off a resurgence, however, and the society happily comments, "Thanks to Mr. Hirose, the decline in the knitting population has halted." Another reason for the turnaround is the reappraisal of handmade goods. Precisely because people live in an age in which anything can be easily designed on a computer and bought for a relatively low price, the value of handcrafted knitwear will continue to grow.

Hirose is an entirely new type of knitting instructor. In addition to designing and knitting all the clothes in a knitting instruction book, whose production he personally supervises, he models the garments. In an interview he once expressed his anxiety that men who like to knit tend to be taunted as sissies. But he says emphatically, "People can fully develop their abilities only if they are provided with an environment in which their individuality is valued and being different is all right." And although today's schools teach very little knitting in home economics classes, he believes that "knitting would be good for children's education, since it requires perseverance and can be redone if need be." Hirose's mission of preaching the joy of knitting--to both men and women--continues.

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Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2000 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.