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Exploring the Traditional Handicraft of “Iga Kumihimo” at the Iga Kumihimo Center “Kumi no Sato” in Mie Prefecture

Posted By on Sep 3, 2013

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Iga is a small province in the Mie prefecture. Although it is not often visited by tourists, Iga makes a great stopping location from Nara or Ise.

Almost every province in Japan has some sort of regional specialty, whether it’s food or handicrafts, and Iga is famous for Iga kumihimo.

Kumihimo is a type of string art made by braiding. Historically, the were often used by samurai on their armor for both functional and decorative purposes, but today they are often used to tie haori and kimono obi.

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The braids can be both round or flat, and are made with a variety of patterns and colors. Some of the obijime we saw had intricate gradients and sakura designs on them. One of the ladies told me that some of these obi ties might be worked on for months before they are finished- and the price tags surely reflected that.

If you visit the Iga Kumihimo Center Kumi no Sato in Mie, you’ll see a wide display of these handicrafts and are able to purchase some in the gift shop.

Often on weekends or upon request, there are demonstrations showing you just how these braids are made.

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One of the coolest parts about visiting the Kumihimo Center is that you can actually experience making your own kumihimo souvenir bracelet or keychain.

A group of us were taken upstairs where we were first shown an introduction video on kumihimo braiding.

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The video went over basic technique and introduced the tools we would be using, such as the marudai and tama.

We all picked our marudai, the wooden stand, and sat down. The threads were individually rolled around large wooden tama, or bobbins. The other ends, where all the threads came together, were tied to a bag of weights, which helped to provide the tension needed for braiding.

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Even though we could follow along with the video, whenever people got stuck, one of the ladies would quickly rush to our aid. For a process that simply involved moving around the large tama, it was actually a lot harder than it looked!

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Despite the initial difficulty, once you got into a groove, it became a lot easier.

Forty minutes later I had my own beautiful kumihimo bracelet!

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Today this still remains one of my favorite souvenirs from my first trip to Japan. Whenever people ask about it, I can proudly tell them I made it myself, and the story behind it!

If you’re ever in Mie, stop by the Iga Kumihimo Center to see these beautiful handicrafts for yourself, and if you’re feeling crafty, be sure to try your hand at making one!

1929-10 Shijuku-cho Iga City
三重県伊賀市四十九町1929-10

[posted by Beth]

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Beth Williams

Originally from Chicago, Beth got her first true taste of travel when she studied abroad in Japan during her final year of university. She ended up loving Asia so much, she found herself moving right back upon graduating and is currently teaching English full-time in Hong Kong. Armed with her camera and a passion for travel, she is currently on a mission to photograph the world-- proving that you can work the normal “9-5” and still find time to travel on her blog Besudesu Abroad.

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