Thursday, January 30, 2003

Bye-Bye, Kimono

Next to the loss by AOL of $98.7 billion (that’s $98,700,000,000.00, by the way), the closing of Berkeley’s Kasuri Dyeworks is an elephant and flea comparison. But although I continue to lose from my AOL investments and remain financially kimono-uninvolved, the closing of the little store at 1951 Shattuck strikes me as terribly sad. The reason storeowner Koji Wada is going under? The Japanese aren’t making kimono cloth in sufficient quantity anymore to keep the price of the merchandise affordable.

Ancient crafts are not being passed on. Remember how the sushi chef had to start by scrubbing the floors for a year before he was allowed to learn how to boil rice? No more. Same goes for kimono-making. Nobody can afford to apprentice 20 or 30 years to learn how to weave cloth that nobody will buy. Nobody but the rich can afford it. Besides the fact you have to hire somebody to dress you, since grandma no longer lives with you, you then need a car to get anywhere, since you can’t ride the trains. Kimonos don’t fit in the new Japan.

Or so says Patricia Yollin of the Chronicle. I have my doubts. I see kimonos all the time in Japan, even on the trains. Come the big holidays, they’re all over the place. And why can’t machines make the cloth? Can’t you program in stitches that look like human glitches? But the closing of this little shop in Berkeley is no doubt a more accurate indicator of the loss of a Japanese cultural treasure than my anecdotal evidence and uninformed questions.

I don’t think a whole lot about Japan when I am in California. I miss my friends, but I am not one who went to Japan for the culture. I remain pretty much a dunce when it comes to textiles and pottery, although I love what I find in front of me most of the time. I take the feminist line that hobbling girls and women in those explosively colorful to breathtakingly elegant (depending whether you’re 16 or 60) straightjacket outfits in a Japanese analogue to barefoot and pregnant.

But then I wander down Shattuck Avenue, past Walgreen’s and Ross “Dress for Less” and all those other slap-it-together-cheap places, and my eye catches this little kimono shop and I have a quiet moment of mentally stroking my Japanese permanent visa.

But then there are always the museums of cultural history.

January 30, 2003

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