Sanada Himo: Kiribako Ties From The Sengoku Period

By Ray Suzuki | April 2nd 2024

#factory #history

Sanada Himo cord was historically used for decorative ties of suits of armor, swords, and scrolls. It is believed that tea ceremony master 千利休 Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591) was the first to use the Sanada Himo to tie a paulownia box: now they are the classical ties of Kiri Bako. Sanada Himo cord was also used by the general public to tie up luggage, due to its excellent durability.

Their origin is unconfirmed, and there are various tales that are believed to be its conception… The most common being that whilst the legendary samurai 真田 幸村 Yukimura Sanada and his father 真田 安房守 昌幸 Masayuki Sanada were kept confined, their servants weaved and sold the cords to earn money for the feudal family. Word of the strong braid ‘made by Sanada’ spread, hence the name: Sanada Himo.

Around the time 千利休 (Sen no Rikyu) first used Sanada cord to tie kiribako, women from warrior families started using the braid as a ‘Tasuki’: a cord used to hold up kimono sleeves and as obijime, the decorative string used to keep the kimono sash in place. The bands are hand woven, in a special technique passed down through generations… It is said to be the narrowest woven fabric: with a vertical and horizontal weave, it has almost no elasticity, and is extremely long-lasting.

Our Ribbon Factory

When we first stepped into Fijii Ribbon, the Sanada Himo factory, we felt its strong presence - the historic architecture of the building was preserved in its original state, with personal repairs by its owners. A warm interior that was full of wooden beams tied together by hand with rope, upholding an array of hanging tools and connecting to machinery: it felt like a personal story.

The style of the factory building’s architecture is known as のこぎり屋根工場 (Nokogiri yane kōjō) - loosely: saw-tooth roof factory. It is a quintessential symbol of the ‘factory’ - early sawtooth roof factories were Western-style factories, introduced to Japan 1883. With the spread of electricity in the early Taishō period, power looms were introduced from handlooms to textile factories. From then on, Saw-roofed factories became popular for various textile productions and were constructed up until the 1960s. In these buildings most of the upper lighting surfaces face north, to suppress direct sunlight from entering the factory: providing indirect light that provides a stable and constant light source with little variation.

The century-old machinery was an enchanting landscape of mechanical elements, modified over time by the owner. He felt our excited interest in these details of his tools, and informed us that most of these iron mechanisms are now unrepairable: as the skillset required to do so has been rendered obsolete.

The inheritance of unwritten skills is sacred. If not passed down and learned, these skills risk being lost. With the number of artisans possessing the skill to make the Sanada Himo lessening as time progresses, it is paramount to retain these crafts, which is why we strive to use it in our design objects, as well as kiribako.