Overdue Trip Report – Japan 2011

Last November, we had the pleasure of spending a week in Japan visiting our supplier of woven necktie silks in Kyoto, Japan.  Ardent fans may know them as the weavers of the popular Burgundy SuperRepp, Espresso with Blue Flowers, and series of Silk-Wool ties.

When our agent told us that he was taking us to visit a mill, we expected a fairly large factory with dozens of employees, like the ones we had visited in Europe. After a three-hour drive out to the outskirts of Kyoto, he parked his car in the driveway of what seemed to be someone’s home – and indeed it was.

Whereas the silk weaving industry in England tends to be vertically integrated with large firms doing most jobs including dyeing yarns, preparing the warp, weaving and finishing etc. in-house, the Italians companies tend to do several jobs in-house, and the Japanese, being Japanese, prefer to specialize in only one part of the process.

In the area of Tango that we visited, we were told that about 20 households remain involved in silk manufacturing, a small number compared to decades ago. Some specialize in dyeing, some in preparing the warp, some in twisting the warp, and others in the final process of weaving.

Rapier loom weaving silk repp

We had the privilege of visiting a family of three who were only focused on weaving– in a small annex to their home, with just six old Japanese rapier looms that weave at less than half the speed of modern looms.

Head of the house preparing the warp (lengthwise yarns)

Speaking to the family through our agent who assisted us with translation, it was plain to see the amount of pride and discipline that they had in their work. They essentially work all day preparing the warp, tending to the looms, and with the looms in their backyard, they can easily rectify any issues immediately.

Before any of their fabric arrives at our workshop, we found out that it would already have gone through at least three meticulous quality control checks by very, very particular people.

The next generation pondering the future

We were pleased to find out that amongst the community, there is still interest from the next generation in succeeding the craft, and they will continue to weave our silk as long as we (and you!) continue to place orders.

A portrait with our agent and the family, after having bento lunch prepared by the matriarch. Excuse the poor picture!

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