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Kimonos get a new lease of life.

At a century-old workshop in a quiet Tokyo neighbourhood, craftsman Yuichi Hirose brushes dye across meticulously hand-cut stencils laid on fabric, using a traditional technique to produce contemporary kimono patterns.

Demand for the elaborate, elegant centrepiece of the Japanese wardrobe is in decline, but a handful of artisans and entrepreneurs like Hirose, 39, are trying to revive it.

"The kimono has become something that is very far removed from our daily lives," said Hirose, who joined his family business after university.

He specialises in "Edo Komon"--a kimono pattern hand-dyed with a Japanese washi paper stencil, which dates back to the Edo period between the 17th and late 19th centuries.

It's a deeply traditional craft that requires great skill to master, he said, "but we need to create something that is accepted in this time".

Hirose's innovations include developing new designs to adorn the kimono, including tiny sharks or even skull motifs.

Once a standard of the Japanese wardrobe, the kimono is now often a garment reserved for special occasions, such as weddings and coming-of-age ceremonies, and is mostly worn by women.

They can be hugely expensive and women often hire experts to dress them because the outfit seemingly endless nipping, tucking and strapping.

The modern kimono industry peaked in 1975 with a market size of [yen]1.8 trillion , according to the economy, trade and industry ministry.

But by 2008, it had shrunk to [yen]406.5bil (RM14.6bil) and further to just [yen]278.5bil in 2016, according to a survey conducted by Yano Research Institute.

"There are many hurdles to buying a kimono," said Takatoshi , vice-chairman of the Japan kimono promotion association, and a kimono manufacturer.

"It's expensive. It's difficult to wear. It's too delicate to wash at home.

He has nearly doubled his number of customers in the past 15 years by selling more kimonos under the [yen]100,000 (RM3,650) price tag, well below the many thousands of dollars a highend piece can cost.

"The industry will grow if we can create a market in which as many people as possible will buy a kimono," he said.

Designer Jotaro Saito says there should be room for experimentation. "What's fabulous, what's and what's cool change every year. It's wrong that kimonos don't change even if everything else is changing," said the Kyoto-based designer, whose work has been worn by singer Lady Gaga.

"Kimonos are not something old. Wearing a kimono is the coolest and the most fun thing."

At Tokyo fashion week in March, Saito, who calls himself "a risk taker", showcased kimonos for men and women, mixing traditional and unconventional motifs and colours.

"I want to present kimonos as a wardrobe in which people can truly feel joy," he said.

And while demand for kimonos is falling among Japanese, services renting the garments to foreign visitors are booming.

Interest is expected to expand, according to the Yano Research Institute, with more tourists visiting Japan and looking for cultural experiences.

Kahori Ochi serves around 500 foreign tourists a year at her kimono rental store in the trendy Harajuku area of Tokyo.

They pay around [yen]9,000 (RM314) to be dressed in a kimono worth about [yen]300,000 (RM10,800). "Kimono is a piece of Japanese culture. I really wanted to that," said Ruby Francisco, a Dutch tourist who rented a pale green kimono at Ochi's shop

Caption: Once a standard of the Japanese wardrobe, the kimono is now often a garment reserved for special occasions.

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Title Annotation:East Asia
Publication:The Filipino Post
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:May 10, 2018
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