着物や帯を小物にリメイクするKimono Tango の代表、高橋千鶴子さんは1年間の欧州滞在で外国人の日本文化に対する関心の高さを実感。帰国後、ホテルや百貨店での勤務経験を生かし、現在の会社を立ち上げた。外国人の顧客に作品や着物の説明をするのは今でも難しいと高橋さんは語る。
Many people are fascinated by kimono. There is something very special about the rich colors and the gorgeous patterns. Chizuko Takahashi of Kimono Tango makes beautiful accessories from recycled kimono and obi, which are now becoming popular with international visitors.
Takahashi grew up in Toyama Prefecture.
“I remember how beautiful the kimono were — like colorful precious jewels. They are like an inheritance — passed down from mother to daughter. In Western countries, mothers passed on their jewelry to their daughters. But Japanese mothers passed on their kimono,” says Takahashi. “In that sense, a kimono is like precious jewelry: You don’t wear it every day but you put it on for a special occasion.”
Takahashi came to Tokyo for university, where she majored in French literature and history. After graduation she started work for one of Japan’s major hotels in Akasaka.
“Lots of foreign tourists and businesspeople were coming to the hotel. Some of my colleagues were returnees who had studied abroad. Their English was good. They were on short-term contracts, so they would work for a few months to save money, and then leave on long trips overseas. It seemed like such a fun and free lifestyle to a Japanese salaried worker like me!” she recalls with a smile.
After four years, Takahashi quit her job and took off overseas, too.
“I spent a year based in London and traveled around Europe, checking out all the wonderful museums. Luckily, I was able to do some part-time work in London. My former boss was working at the hotel chain’s London branch, and he asked me to help out.
“I realized many people are very interested in our culture. For example, people I met in Europe often asked about religion in Japan. As you probably know, Shinto, Buddhism and Christianity all coexist peacefully in Japan. I hadn’t thought about this kind of thing until I went abroad,” she says.
On her return to Japan, Takahashi went to work for a major department store, selling hanga (Japanese woodblock prints). She started Kimono Tango in 2012, combining her childhood love of kimono and her interest in design.
“I noticed people were getting rid of old obi — taking them to recycle shops or selling them cheaply online. In Tokyo, the houses and apartments are small and people just don’t have room to keep all their kimono. I thought maybe I could do something with them,” she notes. “My friends started requesting things, and little by little my business grew. I started selling my handmade accessories online on Etsy. I can still remember when my first overseas order came. I was thrilled! It was for a clutch purse.”
A friend invited Takahashi to do a workshop at SIETAR Japan, an organization that aims to foster international and intercultural communication.
“I talked about the history of kimono and the material, and we made coasters out of old obi. The participants really seemed to enjoy the textures and color of the material,” says Takahashi. She also conducts workshops and exhibitions at various department stores around Tokyo. These also attract many overseas tourists.
Takahashi admits that she still finds English a little challenging at times.
“The hardest thing is when someone asks a very specific question about kimono. I feel I’m representing all of Japan when I answer, so I need to get it right!” she grins.
“I feel very lucky with my business, which has grown thanks to three trends: an interest in recycling and reusing, the current kimono boom and last but not least, the rise in foreign visitors,” says Takahashi. (Louise George Kittaka)
高橋千鶴子 （たかはし ちづこ）