I remember one of my first assignments as a reporter in Takoma Park, Md., involved the local historic preservation group, Historic Takoma. I was new to the town, and while talking to a city resident about the group, he scoffed, “You mean ‘Hysteric‘ Takoma?” Truth be told, the group has done and is doing amazing work to protect and preserve the city’s history.
I thought about Historic Takoma again as I read “Twilight for the Kimono” in the newly expanded World section of today’s Washington Post. The story documents what is likely the end of Japan’s most renowned kimono houses in the Nishijin, Kyoto’s Kimono District where the beautiful silk garments have been made for more than 1,200 years. It’s an unfortunate side effect of globalization, I imagine, that Nishijin has only three kimono masters left. Everything else is now produced in China.
When I was in Cambodia, I went to a weaving shack on Mekong Island, a narrow spit in the middle of the river accessible via a ferry about 30 minutes by moto north of Phnom Penh. I’m all but sure my motodop took me there as part of an arrangement with the shack’s owner, a Cambodian woman named Miss Kim, if I recall (I have her business card somewhere). She explained to me that hers was a dying art in Cambodia, the head-weaving of beautiful silk throws with intricate geometric designs in shimmering blacks, golds, silvers and oranges.
The art was dying because WTO-sanctioned trade quotas were coming to an end, which meant that China would be able to dump its fabrics and clothing onto the world market, undercutting even the rock-bottom prices of rural Cambodia. I doubt Miss Kim was bothered much by the quotas as she probably only sent her weavings to the capital city for sale to tourists brave enough to venture inside the Russian Market.
The price for one of Miss Kim’s soon-to-be relics? “$20, it cheap,” she said.
My motodop had already advised me that I could bargain her down, so for the first time in my life, I decided to play hard ball. It was pretty easy to get her down to $5 as the guy sitting at the loom worked furiously to finish another one. I smiled, told her thank you, and gave her a $20 bill. It seemed to be a reasonable price for another man’s labor under the hot Cambodian sun.
The story about Nishijin made me think of Miss Kim. I wonder what will become of the last of the Nishijin kimonos. Will someone try to save this dying art form? And will some people consider those kimono saviors “hysteric?”
Take a look at the Washington Post story, and especially the photos. It makes me wish I could buy one of the kimonos myself, if for no other reason than to pay homage to another man’s hard work and dedication.