Mr.Eito Sasaki, a Nishijin Textile Artisan
Nishijin Textile of Kyoto
Nice to meet you. First, could you tell me why you started this job?
Nice to meet you, too. We have run this shop as a family business, and I am the 6th shop owner. I don’t really have the experience of training, since I used to help from my childhood. I gradually acquired the skill without my noticing. I spent time at the workshop so often that I didn’t have to do special training to acquire the skill.
You spent a lot of time at this workshop when you were a child.
I did. I quite liked Nishijin textile. I didn’t look for other jobs, so it was natural to take over our family’s store. Personally, I like to use a computer, so I kept studying how to use it. Thanks to this hobby, I once worked with a designer, too.
What kind of job do you do now?
My main job is to order threads from oriya, and weave obi (decorative sash worn with a kimono). This is the last process of Nishijin textile, and this process is called “hata-ori” in Japanese. We are called “hataya” in general. Hataya is different from oriya. What hataya does is to weave obi. Oriya, on the other hand, does not only weave, but controls the whole process of Nishijin Textile.
Also, the unique point of Nishijin textile is that we weave by using a Jacquard loom. By using this loom, some layers are made on the cloth itself. We make layers on the base cloth, so the cloth will be thicker than other textile.
The Problem of Piecework Basis System
I’ve heard that it is not that easy to make a living by working as a weaver.
Yes, that’s right. One problem is that we don’t have enough work to do. However, more serious problem, I believe, is the system of piecework basis. We aren’t paid monthly, but by the piece. If we don’t produce textiles, we can’t get pay.
Is it possible to change the system?
It is, but we need to reconsider the system in the future. We should make artisans’ life more stable. Otherwise, the number of artisans will get smaller and smaller. I’ve heard that in old days, artisans were paid monthly. The reason why it was possible at that time is that oriya had its own workplace to weave textiles. However, they started to quite running their own workshop since it is cheaper to leave the weaving process on hataya like us, considering the cost of electricity and maintenance. As they changed their working style, monthly-paid system was also stopped.
Actually we can keep our business now thanks to everyone’s pension. Our salary is too low to make a living without getting pension. Therefore, most weavers are over seventy. Artisans around forty or fifty years old are only four or five. On the other hand, there are a hundred or more old artisans. The shape of population pyramid is the exact inverted triangle.
Is artisans’ salary that low?
Well, the problem is that each wage paid on each piecework is too low. For example, we get 25 sen for one job. But 25 sen is too cheap. It should be at least 40 or 50 sen. Otherwise, it is impossible to make a living especially for young artisans. Nishijin textile industry is in a transition period. We need to reconsider our current system.
On-line store “Gonomi,” Mr. Sasaki’s New Project
Please tell me about your on-line store.
I originally had some knowledge to launch a website because I studied computer on my own. I thought it is difficult to make products and sell at a store at the same time. However, it is much easier to do so when it comes to online service. That is why I started my website.
What kind of products do you sell on the Internet?
At first, I sold only Nishijin textiles. However, I would like to sell other products which relate to kimono or traditional products of Kyoto. I named my website “gonomi” because this word means to select. I want my customers to select various kind of products through my website.
Recently, I am seeking another possibility, too. I started to create a new brand of Nishijin textile in order to produce to young people. I guess young people are unfamiliar with kimono because kimono, especially traditional kimono such as Nishijin textile is expensive for them. I want young people to use Nishijin textile in their everyday clothes, so I made Nishijin textile hats, wallets, and card holders with polka-dots or stripes. I hope they will be interested in Nishijin textile through my products.
Working with Wholesalers
What do you want to do in the future?
I want to work with wholesalers. Wholesalers are always directly connected to customers, so they know well about what customers really need. Some wholesalers want to make their own products but it is difficult to do so for them. However, artisans like us can help them to make new products regardless of the scale of their products. Therefore, I believe we can make what customers really need through working with wholesalers. I want to do something like that.
Mr. Sasaki is the 6th shop owner of Nishijin Textile Rindo-ya, a traditional Nishijin textile shop in Kyoto. They have taken the shop from generation to generation, and their work is always related to Nishijin textile in some way. From the generation of Mr. Sasaki’s grandfather, they have worked as weavers for the traditional textile.
Nishijin Textile Rindo-ya
782, Makuracho, Kamigyo-ku Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, 602-8488, Japan
Nishijin Textile Rindo-ya official website
about the writer