January 10, 2012
When I tie up
the Sanada cord, a turtle
– Yamao Tamamo
I first came across Sanada-himo in 2003 at the gallery shop of the Kyoto Traditional Arts & Crafts Museum. There were examples of sanada-himo alongside kumihimo braiding with the characteristics of both standard warp-weft handweaving and the flat, long characteristics of kumihimo.
Here’s a photo of kumihimo and sanadahimo braids in modern guises (luggage identifiers, mobile phone cords, hair clips) purchased at the Kyoto Traditional Arts & Crafts Museum shop. From left the sanada-himo examples are the first, sixth and seventh, the rest being kumihimo (takadai braiding stand, #2, kakudai #3-5 and marudai #8):
During 2007, while taking a walk up the steep hill towards the popular Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyoto, in amongst the numerous souvenir stalls I came upon a shop that sold sanada–himo by the length, presumably catering to tea masters, tea schools, temples, shrines and art collectors. By this time, I’d ascertained that it wasn’t kumihimo braiding per se, but standard warp-weft weaving on a small, narrow scale. Sanada-himo ‘ribbons’ are much used in Japan to secure the lids to the ubiquitous traditional wooden boxes containing tea cups and other valuables. These wooden boxes offer some protection against damage by earthquakes and are convenient both in terms of transport and storage of small items. I bought two small lengths for 300Y/$US5 each. Each is a 2-metre lengths, with a standard width of 12mm, the central design being 3-4mm wide. In terms of colour, the one on the left is a blue with a greenish tinge, with a cream central design; the one at right, is a dark navy blue/black with a central design of orange and blue-grey with an outline in red.
To put sanada-himo in context, here’s a photograph of one wrapped around a wooden box containing a tea cup (chawan) from the Japanese tea ceremony. You’ll notice that there’s a slit in the bottom of the box to allow for the sanada-himo tape to pass around without scuffing or affecting the balance of the box. The third photo shows the chawan inside the box, wrapped in its own silk bag with braided cord (braided on a marudai or kakudai braiding stand – an extremely simple braid structure because elegant simplicity is prized in the tea ceremony) – outside the box is the tiny ceramic tea-caddy, with its ivory (these days resin) lid, again wrapped in its own silk bag with braided cord. The braids were often tied in very elaborate knots. Sometimes those knots were a family secret or tradition so that the owner of the very valuable ceramic utensils or the even more expensive tea could be security-packaged by its owner. Any potential thief would have to know the secret method of tying the braided cord!
History; sanada-himo vs sageo
In many Japanese textile traditions, there are two options when it comes to historical origins. Either the tradition came from China or it was entirely homegrown, the former explanation being part of the cultural homage to China (and perhaps a throwback to the centuries when Japan suffered a “cultural cringe” because everything of value seemed to come from that country) and the latter being part of the Japanese ‘independent’ thought or nationalism, that significant innovations or inventions must be the product of the Japanese mind. We see this with kumihimo and temari, for example. As a rule, I never discuss historical origins with the Japanese – ascribing their tradition to the Chinese could verge on a diplomatic incident. Part of the problem too is that the Shosoin Treasury of ‘Japanese’ textiles in Nara, the foundation stone of all things textile in Japan, is a mix of homegrown textiles and tribute textiles from the court of China from the 8th century; the experts are in constant dispute about which textile came from which country. Some Japanese experts have re-created Shosoin textiles using traditional Chinese methods, which surely doesn’t go down too well with the Japanese. Unsurprisingly then, there are two explanations of this type when it comes to the historical origins of sanada-himo.
Some say the flat woven cord technique is said to have originated in China, specifically Tibet (sanaaru) and come to Japan via the Silk Road around the 9th or 10th century (Heian Period); thereafter it was known as “small weaving” (sa-no-hata), which was later changed to sanada. Closer to home, others say it can be traced back to Yayoi Period (300BC-300AD) patterning, when textiles were pressed into clay to create surface patterning. Sanada-himo is also been identified with the well-known Sengoku Period 16th century samurai warrior, Masayuki Sanada and his family, who used this cord to wrap around his sword handle. The cord was sold in the town of Sakai (now a suburb of Osaka) as Sanada-no-himo.
While sword handles were also wrapped with braided cords (sageo), the woven sort graduated into the tea ceremony as supported by samurai where it took on the life as “samurai ribbon”, used as an all-purpose wrapping or tying cord for utensil boxes made from paulownia wood. The distinction between sageo and sanada-himo is blurred these days; by their very nature, sanada-himo will be very thin, while sageo will be thicker or even rounder in shape.
Here’s a photo of samurai swords on show at the Osaka City Museum.The top shows the blade only, the lower one showing the sageo braided cord in place with the blade sheathed in its lacquered case. The sageo was used to secure the sword to the warrior’s waist.
A five-metre length of sanada-himo is said to take a month to weave by hand. Obviously for use with samurai weaponry, the tight weave provides the tape with strength.
Sanada-himo is traditionally made from natural dyes: brown from the Japanese chestnut, yellow from Cape Jasmine, red from safflower, purple from gromwell root, in total around 70 plant species.
Orimoto Sumiya Co. Ltd. (www.sanadahimo.com) defines sanada-himo as a traditional textile originated from the Sanada family. The sanada-himo was and is still made of cotton, though silk is often mixed with cotton in manufacture for items relating to tea ceremony. Sumiya started business in 1928 and move from Kaga City, Ishikawa to Kanazawa in 2008. They use terms such as “shouken”, “kaganishiki” (Kaga City brocade), “fukuro” (wrapping) and “hirahimo” (flat braid) to distinguish between cotton and silklon (silk and nylon presumably), all-cotton, and double-woven and plain weave varieties.
Apparently the technique of sanada-himo developed into a weaving style (sanada-ori) and also applied to making obi, hence the term sanada-obi. It is used as bands for traditional wooden geta sandals (sanada-uchi), wristwatch bands, belts, dog leashes and bag handles.
While individuals might have their own designs created, there is a wide range of so-called “public” patterns available to anyone.
Weaving your own
I’m not aware of anyone copying traditional sanada-himo in the West by hand. Obviously it’s within reach of a handweaver familiar with warp-faced weaving. Theoretically braiders can braid it either on the ayatakadai stand which allows for perpendicular warp to weft ‘weaving’. The same goes for a karakumidai braiding stand.
See history and tubular manufacture to facilitate cutting trimming ends at http://www.gokotea.com/kb_results.asp?ID=5.
See a variety of surface design patterns, associated with sanada-himo as sword sageo used in iaido (swordplay art) at http://www.tozandoshop.com/Kyoto_Sanada_Himo_Sageo_p/000-sd.htm.
1Sanada himo musubeba kame no naki ni keri: see http://darumamuseum.blogspot.com.au/2007/09/belt-buckle-obidome.html