Japanese Braided Cords

Tachibana Museum

Japanese arts and crafts are famous for exemplifying aesthetic beauty, and integrating a variety of skills in the process.

About Japanese Cord Braiding
Japanese arts and crafts are famous for exemplifying aesthetic beauty, and integrating a variety of skills in the process.The Decorative Sutra is a marriage of a variety of crafts - paper-making, dyeing, calligraphy, silk weaving, gold smithery, cord braiding, etc. Each technique has an exclusive history. Made from hemp, cotton, and silk, Japanese braided cords are fragile and deteriorate easily. In the past, Japanese cords were considered adornments and were not highly valued in themselves. Thus, it is rare to find cords that date back to medieval times.
About Japanese Braided Cords
Japanese braided cords were once mass produced for Buddhist or Shintoist altars, military armour, household accessories, and various costumes. Unfortunately, not many of these cords have survived. Among the rare and ancient ones that have been preserved, time has not defaced their vivid colours and patterns. Some of these cords can still be viewed as treasured items at temples such as Horyuji, and Shosouin; and they have a long and distinguished history.
Kute-uchi Braiding Technique
From the earliest times, rope or cord braiding has been found in societies around the globe. However, not many people have concerned themselves with the slow demise of traditional braiding techniques. In recent years, thanks to the effort of scholars, interest in braided cords, and braiding techniques, has revived. Thus, traditional braiding has become more familiar to the general public.
Kute-uchi Braiding Technique
Current Japanese Kumihimo (cord braiding) uses braiding stands such as the “maru-dai (round stand)”, the “taka-dai (large stand)”, and the “ayatake-dai (bamboo stand).” The methods were founded in the Edo period, and since ancient times, the loop-manipulation technique has been the most essential method in Japan. It is called the loop-manipulation technique because of the process; the thread ends are looped, then hooked and held in the fingers or hands, and woven into patterns. The loop-manipulation braiding technique is known as “Kute-uchi kumihimo gihou” in Japan.
Kute-uchi Braiding Technique
Kute-uchi kumihimo gihou (Kute-uchi braiding technique) is a hands-on method. The braided threads are looped together. The loops are slipped around the hands or fingers. Consequently, the upper and lower threads need to be synchronized, and the braided threads become two or four-layered braids. By changing the linkage, the braided cords become a Kaku-gumi (square braid) or a Maru-gumi (round braid).   Since the loop manipulation technique is a finger/hand-held method, even producing simple braids requires at least two people working together; one person manipulates the threads and the other uses a spatula to beat and tighten the braided part. It requires four to five people’s hands to make more complex braids like Yon-ren Kaku-gumi (four-linked square braids) which are found on braided cords used in funeral services at Chusonji-temple, or Ryo-men Kikko-gumi (a double sided hexagon pattern braid) found on cords preserved at Mitake-shrine.

Kuteuchi Kumihimo Braiding
the loop manipulation technique is
the figure/hand-held method

Kute-uchi Braiding Technique
Nowadays it is almost impossible to assemble braiding experts for long-term projects, so I have created an original stand for long and complex braids, which simultaneously allows me to work alone, and replicate the loop-manipulation braiding technique. The advantages of using this stand are that it eliminates the need for other craftsmen, and allows me to stop, rest and restart at my own convenience. Ultimately giving me more time to study techniques, and devise new plans when I am restoring ancient cords or working on personal projects.
Kute-uchi Braiding Technique
In the past, this loop-manipulation braiding technique was commonly used, but it seems to have fallen into decline due to the need for too many experts’ hands. Moreover, once the braiding starts, it demands an exacting long-term commitment to fine detail. Some might argue that utilizing the stand is not faithful to the true loop-manipulation braiding technique. However, I believe it is more essential to pass on the legacy of craftsmanship - rather than see it decline. I hope to revive this method and give it widespread popularity.

Kute
lacquered twisted-paper string

Nishioka Studio's original Kute
cotton strings

Kuteuchi Kumihimo Braiding
by the original stand for a long and complex braid, which allows me to work alone

Nishioka Kobou Studio
Our studio primarily produces and restores armour and arms. We also produce and restore braided cords utilized for pictorial scrolls, scripture, or shrine and temple accessories. Braided cords usually deteriorate over time or are lost. However, if we are given an original fragment of a cord, we can restore or replicate it.

Cocoons of koishimaru (a kind of silkworm)

Raw silk of Seijuku-Kouhaishu

Silk dyed with plant-dyes

Reproduction of a braided cord for the “Heike Noukyou” Sutra Scroll in Itsukushima Shrine’s possession.
The national treasure “Heike Noukyou” is a set of thirty-three sutra scrolls. Taira no Kiyomori and the Taira clan transcribed and dedicated the scrolls to Itsukushima Shrine at the end of the Heian period (1164 CE). Each scroll was made by the best craftsmen of the time, and it was deemed to be the greatest decorative sutra of the Heian period. The braided cords attached to the scrolls also exhibit the finest craftsmanship and beauty.    This scroll cord is a combination of three differently designed braids arranged in a line of five cords. Apparently, three or four people braided different designs, and simultaneously fed them to a master craftsman who completed the work. It shows the sophistication of the Kute-uchi braiding technique, and also the outstanding artistic sense entailed in designing such a complex Yabane (fletching) pattern.
Braided cords used in armour
There are numerous types of braided cords used in Japanese armour. The braids are indicative of preferences in specific eras.

The braided cord, “Odoshi-ito” is a cord used to link Kosaneita (small plates) together, and constitutes one of the most basic components of Japanese armour. The connected kosane-ita are shaped into sleeves and trunks, which are also linked together with more braided cords called “Odokoro”.

On the back of the Ooyoroi (classic armour), Domaru (scaled armour) and Haramaki (armour from the Heian to Kamakura period) there are braided cords which are tied in Agemaki trefoil knots, and these cords are tied to the cords extending from the sleeves. They function as limitations to the movement of the sleeves.

Kurijime-no-o (waist cord) is a cord encircling the waist part of the armour. Not only is it practical; it enhances the beauty of the armour. More luxurious and gorgeous braids such as Kikko-uchi (hexagon designed) cords were used in the Heian to Kamakura period.

In the Heian period, Hira-uchi (flat) braids, commonly used as “odoshi-ito” (cords to link small plates), were made in different widths. “Une-su” was the unit used to measure the widths, and the Hira-uchi braid width varied from 2, 4, 8, 10, 12 to 14 une.
After the Kamakura period, 8 une became the standard width for braided cords.

Sode-o (sleeve cords) and Mizunomi-o (cords to prevent shoulder guards from slipping when warriors bent forward) were typically braided as Kaku-gumi (square) in the middle ages, but after the Azuchi-Momoyama period (approximately 1558 to 1600 CE), the Maru-gumi (round) style became the standard.

The Takahimo cord, connecting the breast plate to the shoulder strap was originally a Maru-guke (round) cord made from tanned leather, and after the Nanboku-cho period (Southern and Northern Courts period 1336 to 1392 CE), braided cords began to be used. Then, until the end of the Muromachi period (1336 to 1573 CE), the Genji-uchi braid, and the Kikko-uchi braid became popular and were also used for Kurijime-no-o (waist cords).

From the Sengoku period to the Edo period, the Kabuto-no-o (helmet cord) changed from braided cords to silk or cotton blind-stitched cords, and Kurijime-no-o (waist cords) were altered to plain Yotsu-uchi (four-layered) braids.

Braided cords used in armour
As you can see, braided cords have had an integral role in the evolution of Japanese armour. The colors and patterns of the braids have reflected the trends and preferences of certain eras. On historic order forms for armour, there are explicit designations for color and design, which exemplify how military clients’ valued the details of their armour. If you are going to die in battle, you might as die in style. The shades of color in the braids were an integral part of Japanese armour and invariably reflect the personalities of the bearers. In short, the colors distinguished one great warrior from another.
By : Tachibana Museum
Credits: Story

NISHIOKA SAMURAI’S ARMER & BRAIDING STUDIO

Tachibana Foundation
TACHIBANA MUSEUM


Curated by
NISHIOKA Chizuru (NISHIOKA SAMURAI’S ARMER & BRAIDING STUDIO)
UENO Kaori (TACHIBANA MUSEUM)

Bibliography
- Kinoshita, Masako. 1994. Kyoto Shoin. Nihon Kumihimo Kogihou no Kenkyu(Study of Archic Brading Techniques in Japan).
- Shibundo. 1992. Shibundo. Nihon no Bijutsu: No. 308 Kumihimo
- Domyo Shinbeiei. Gakuseisya. 1963. Himo
- Ohzeki Masunari 1822 Shika-suuyou.
- Late Edo ItoKumizu

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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