2020 NO.29


The Ties Binding the Heart of Japan


Embracing Style

Kumihimo (Braided cords)

Photography: Takishima Yoji Photos: Getty Images, amanaimages

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.

Sageo that samurai wrapped around their swords.

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.

Founded in 1652, for over 360 years, Domyo has been making kumihimo in Ueno, Tokyo. More than 500 types of obijime can always be found in their store.

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.

Obijime is tied last, in the center of the obi.

Left: The kumihimo are all dyed and braided manually, preserving the legacy of artisanal braiding.
Right: Techniques to reveal patterns or lettering on kumihimo spawned new patterns which reflected the stylish tastes of Edo citizens.

Domyo Kiichiro is the 10th generation proprietor of Domyo.
He is dedicated to creating new kumihimo while preserving the historical and enduring kumihimo techniques found throughout Japan.
“A unique Japanese aesthetic is incorporated into small kumihimo, measuring just a few centimeters,” he says. “I hope to challenge myself technically by combining differing materials to create new ties tailored to the modern lifestyle.”