The Ties Binding the Heart of Japan
Kumihimo (Braided cords)
Kumihimo are cords made by braiding silk or cotton threads. Becoming popular among the nobility in the 8th century, varied and sophisticated kumihimo braiding methods were gradually conceived to birth a decoration culture around them. As elegant and intricate works of art, they were used to adorn clothing and Buddhist altar items as well as sword straps for nobility. As Japan became a samurai society in the 12th century, kumihimo became popular among samurai for not only their beauty, but also for their practical features, such as excellent durability and elastic tightness, making them useful for supporting heavy armor and other equipment that weighed several dozen kilograms.
In the 17th to 18th centuries, making of kumihimo sword straps called sageo flourished in
Edo (present-day Tokyo). It was considered the way of the samurai to make their own sageo, so it
is said that many of them mastered kumihimo techniques.
However, carrying swords was banned in 1876. Sageo craftsmen and merchants were about to lose their livelihoods before they set their focus on obijime, which shares similar manufactured characteristics with sageo.
Obijime is the cord that is tied around the center of obi as a finishing touch to hold obi-musubi in place. Boosted by the wide popularity of the otaiko-musubi, one of the variations of sash knots and which requires obijime, kumihimo gained a new surge of demand and was revitalized. Thus, kumihimo played an excellent supporting role to the kimono and rapidly developed to become an essential presence today in Japan’s kimono culture.