An old tradition – a new festival
The whole world knows that Japan is the country of breathtakingly beautiful textiles that are being produced complying with the highest standards of art and craft. Many of the skills which we still admire so much were developed and reached their perfection in the Edo period (1603 to 1868) already. In our days only some hands full of those handicraft businesses have remained – others were ousted a long time ago by methods of industrial production and conditioning.
However, on the occasion of the dyer’s festival of Nakai (located in the northwestern part of Shinjuku), that has been given the pretty name of “some no komichi” (染の小道 / そめのこみち) “dye lane”, there is more than just contemplaing about days long gone.
From the early Shōwa period until the 1950s the waters of the Kanda river (神田川 / かんだがわ) and the Myōshōji river (妙正寺川 / みょうしょうじがわ) had attracted a great number of dyer’s workshops. At those “good old days” one counted more than 300 of them (only Kyōto and Kanazawa where known for a comparative number of dyer’s businesses). Still there are some workshops and textile-art galleries left in the area of Nakai (中井 / なかい) and Ochiai (落合 / おちあい) that are part of a rather lively culture of arts and crafts.
To bring this part of Japanese culture back to the attention of the public, the “some no komichi” was launched in 2009 – at that time on a very limited scale. Since 2011 the festival consist of two rather attention-grabbing parts:
River Gallery of Kimono Fabrics
This part of the event is in reminiscence of the old days, when the freshly dyed farbrics were actually rinsed in the waters of the Myōshōji river. There is always quite a number of elaborately printed or dyed cloths showing the traditional designs and colours of the old days (Edo Sarasa and Edo Komon / 江戸更紗 / 江戸小紋), but also a lot of cloths with modern designs or the hand-crafted prints created in group efforts.
These long cloths are called “tan mono” (反物 / たんもの) and have the standard width that is the basic measure for the fabrication of Japanese kimono. The different sizes that are – of course – necessary also for traditional kimono are not achieved by cutting the width or shape of the textile, but by applying appropriate seam-margins. This unique way of tailoring not only ensures that nothing of the precious cloth is being wasted, but also that kimono can also be adjusted in size and re-sewn at any later stage (just in case the Weightwatcher’s diet didn’t bring the lasting success one desired). This way kimono can also be handed down to the next generation – irrespective of the size of the offsprings.
Street Gallery of Noren
Most of the shops, coffee shops and restaurants in the area decorate their entrance doors with traditional drapery (暖簾 / のれん / noren), that has been created in local dye workshops in cooperation with the shop owners. Traditionally these “noren” have the function of indicating to the passersby that the shop/restaurant is open. However, these mostly rather artful curtains are also used in private homes as decoration or room divider.
Obviously, this festival is finding more and more friends, as growing popularity indicates:
4,400 visitors / 60 long-cloths river gallery / 51 noren street gallery
12,000 visitors / 72 long-cloths river gallery / 75 noren street gallery
14,000 visitors / 87 long-cloths river gallery /87 noren street gallery
9,900 visitors / 109 long-cloths river gallery / 99 noren street gallery
12,200 visitors / 127 long-cloths river gallery / 97 noren street gallery
For this year’s festival (2.26. – 2.28.2016) there are no statistics available as of day of writing.
How to get there:
From the centre of Tōkyō take the Toei subway Ōedo line (都営地下鉄大江戸線 / とえいちかてつおおえどせん) to Nakai (中井 / なかい), or from Takadanobaba (高田馬場 / たかだのばば) the Seibu Shinjuku line (西武新宿線 / せいぶしんじゅくせん) respectively – also to Nakai (中井 / なかい). The festival is located between the two stations.