Nishijin, Kyoto

One of the pleasures of academia is working with doctoral students whose projects extend their supervisors' knowledge about their area of expertise. Dr. Jenny Hall introduced me to the sensory experiences of traditional textile making and design as per her dissertation thesis, Tradition and Innovation in Textile Production and Design in Contemporary Japan.

Her work showed how a handful of young designers are transforming the traditional art (and business) of kimono and obi weaving, dyeing, crafting and design in order to bring these garments to a new consumer audience. Working with her opened my eyes to parts of Kyoto culture and industry which I had never thought much about before, as well as expanding my wardrobe!

On a recent visit, I decided to go to Nishijin, a neighbourhood in Kyoto renown in the traditional garment industry. Some of the most famous kimono and obi materials were made in this district; currently, demand for these products is in decline and many of the factories have closed or are operating at reduced capacity. This recording was made as I strolled the mostly empty streets of Nishijin one winter weekday afternoon with our collaborator, Professor Shuhei Hosokawa. Here I captured the sound of steam escaping periodically from a dye factory. Jenny's thesis (linked above) gives more detail about not just the sights but also the sounds, smells and even taste of the dyeing process, as well as newer techniques used by designers to lower costs.

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