The TOKYO UMBRAID is a Western-style umbrella, born from the collaboration between Ryukobo and a prestigious purveyor to the Imperial Household. The collaboration collection with Maehara Kouei Shouten features 16 bone umbrellas with shafts and handles that are adorned with exquisite kumihimo. The kumihimo decorating the handles depicts an auspicious pattern of a turtle shell called "kainokuchigumi." The rubber piece attached to the top of the handle provides easy placement for umbrellas with straight handles, which sometimes can be hard to place. The beauty that is revealed once the umbrella is opened, the auspicious pattern of the handle, and the useful quality of keeping the user dry during rain, all make it the perfect gift.
Ryukobo is the only kumihimo atelier in Tokyo that carries out the entire process from beginning to end, starting with the making of threads that match kumihimo, through the entire process of design, dyeing, and braiding. The atelier is led by Master Takashi Fukuda, who has been certified as a “traditional craftsman” by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, and his son Ryuta. Ever since its establishment 132 years ago, Ryukobo has passed down authentic kumihimo-making techniques as a family business. Confidence in Ryukobo’s artisanship runs deep, and it is appreciated and loved by many luminaries in tea ceremony circles, kabuki actors, and the Imperial Family, who all prize quality.
Kumihimo are made using specialised work stands, called maru-dai (round stands), kaku-dai (angular stands), ayatake-dai (patterned bamboo stands), and taka-dai (high stands). Beautifully dyed silk threads are woven deftly by craftspeople employing dozens of different techniques. The result is high-quality braids that have just the right elasticity, making them easy to tie, but difficult to undo. This can only be achieved by a skilled craftsperson who, with great concentration, braids the cords with subtly graded tension. The work on kumihimo with complex patterns progresses very slowly, at a rate of just a few centimetres per hour.
Recently, Ryukobo, with Ryuta as its centre, is actively developing new products by evolving kumihimo into something modern that can be worn with Western-style clothing as well as traditional Japanese costumes. Ryukobo's fashion-oriented approach starting with bracelets and the collaboration of umbrellas with "utilitarian beauty", and their initiatives to expand the possibilities of kumihimo are attracting attention both inside and outside Japan these days. Braiding technology, which has been carefully handed down over the generations, is set to evolve into new shapes.