Japanese Braiding Part I: International Conference on Braiding in Manchester

Do you know what Japanese braiding (Kumihimo) is? It is a traditional way of braiding to create cords. These cords were used to tie a scroll, or sword, or lace armour, among other things. Now, the most common use of Japanese braids is to tie a sash (obi) when women wear kimono (this type of cord is called Obijime). But if you look carefully, you may notice some of the popular mobile phone straps have a small version of Japanese braids.

Although Obijime are extremely common in Japan, very few people would ever think of making one on their own. I for one was thinking that Obijime was something to buy, not to make on my own. I knew, by reading magazines, there were a few places where you can learn how to make obijime, but I have to say those who are interested in such a hobby are a tiny minority.

So, once again, I was extremely surprised to learn there were some people around Manchester who are interested in Japanese braiding. Not only that, I found out there is even a Braid Society! I thought that was surprising enough, so imagine how I lost my breath when I learned that the 2nd International Conference on Braiding (Braids 2012) was to be held in Manchester! I learned that the first one was in Kyoto, which seems most reasonable. But why Manchester? I managed to interview the organiser of the conference, Debbie Richardson, who herself is a very keen braider, to find out all about it. Please watch the video below.

OK. So now I understand that they chose Manchester because it is the birth place of the textile industry. Although I did learn about the Industrial Revolution in history a long time ago, it hadn’t really sunk in, and I did not realise the practical implication of it.

It took Debbie five years to organise this conference, but it was worth her effort and the conference was a great success, well attended by close to 200 people from all over the world. They had a whole week full of lectures and workshops. This interview was conducted at the conference dinner on Thursday. Many Japanese participants at the conference came dressed in kimono, showing off their beautiful obijime (well, actually, Japanese ladies are very modest; they weren’t showing off intentionally). The only kind of conference I have previously attended was purely academic, but this conference was very practical. Many participants were able to learn new ways of braiding at the various workshops during the conference. Now they have new skills.

As Debbie said, they do other kinds of braiding besides Japanese braiding, but still Japanese braiding is a quite big part of it. It’s so wonderful to know that Japanese braiding is enjoyed here in the UK (and some other parts of the world as well, such as the US). As a Japanese, I would like to express my gratitude to Makiko Tada, who worked tirelessly to spread this traditional Japanese art overseas.

At the end of her speech, the president, Jacqui Carey, thanked Debbie for her hard work organising this large scale conference, and you wouldn’t believe how loud and long everyone there applauded! Thank you, Debbie, for bringing this special conference to Manchester.

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