2020 NO.29


The Ties Binding the Heart of Japan


The Beauty of Knots, Refined by Unique Techniques

Decorative knots

Tying a single cord can turn it into a key or even a pretty flower. Yet no matter how elaborate the knot becomes, it will revert to a single cord when unraveled. Over the years, decorative knots have made a beautiful transformation through the delicate and refined handiwork of the Japanese people.
The ability to make creative and stunning decorative knots was considered to be an important skill for women of the nobility in the 12th century; thus, it was deemed to be one of the most important skills that they studied. Around this time, hana-musubi, literally meaning “flower knots,” were popular.

However, the history of the adorning hana-musubi met dramatic change in the Warring States period, from the end of the 15th century through the end of the 16th century. Samurai lords valued the tea ceremony, but they feared the possibility of poisoned tea. To avert this, the tea masters who served samurai lords initiated the custom of tying the pouches containing tea powder in their own complex way which could not be imitated. If by any chance the knot could be unraveled, it would be impossible to tie it again in the same way, making it obvious if someone had opened it. These untraceable knots were called fuuji-musubi, literally meaning “seal knot”—a single cord which brilliantly served as a key.

During the Edo period (1603–1868), skills to create the authentic beauty of hana-musubi were enhanced for use on pouches that held tea powders and accessories.

The fuuji-musubi served as a key while taking the form of a beautiful decorative knot.

Sekine Miyuki is a researcher of musubi, knots, and an artist who renders Japan’s seasons and events with various ways of musubi. Her creative activities include the reproduction of musubi from ancient ceremonies and events based on historical documents and other materials.

Kusudama has five colored strings drooping at a length on a pouch containing incense and medicinal herbs. The kusudama in the photo is tied with kumihimo, braided cords.

All works on p.16 are by Sekine Miyuki