Family Kimono Clothing Business - Interview with Third generation Heir

We recently had a lovely interview with Nagata-san who is the third generation heir to inherit family Kimono Clothing business in Kyushu. There were some interesting insights in to Japanese culture and how he sees the future of the Kimono. Here is how the interview went...

Can you tell us a little bit about your parents' Kimono business? How many generations has it existed? What do they sell and what kind of customers buy from you?
We sell Kimono, or rent it out sometimes. Mainly for special occasions such as Wedding, 20 years celebration, funerals, etc.
It has been 57 years since my grandfather started this business. So I’m the 3rd generation. My grandmother used to buy Kimono (Oshima tsumugi etc) at holiday sites, then my grandfather realized that it is much cheaper to buy them from outside than locally. So he started selling them to his friends.

The company name is Marunishi with the hope to dominate the whole West-Japan.

Do you have a strong memory from childhood in your parent's shop?
My grandfather used to have strange pets such as peacocks, eel and koi.
Also, he always gave us some pocket money when we got a full score at school exams, so we always showed him our paper no matter how small the exams were. We used to play a game where the first person who unwrapped the kimono roll was the winner. I remember damaging the fabric and hence was banned from coming into the shop for a while.

As a young Japanese man, how does traditional Japanese clothing fit around your own life? Is there anything you love about it?
There is not much opportunity to wear Kimono, especially if you are a male. In Japan we celebrate when children grow to 3, 5, 7 years old (because back then a lot of kids lost their lives before reaching those ages). So on those occasions. Or after 100 days a baby was born. If you are a woman you might wear one at Seijin-shiki (a ceremony when you turn to 20). Whereas men tend to wear suits these days. Otherwise, New Years, weddings, funerals - those important events.

People do want to try Kimono but they don’t feel like there is an opportunity, unless it is a Yukata.

In your opinion, is the need for the Kimono declining or is there still a demand among Japanese people for traditional handcrafted products?
The demand for Kimono is declining. The market for used Kimono is apparently growing but not for new sales. However, I don’t think it will completely disappear. The product is not bad. The problem is the way it is marketed/approached. It has an atmosphere that makes it hard to casually approach. Things like traditions and rules/manners etc.
I’m not saying tradition is bad but I just want people to experience the “fun” part more. For example, people might enjoy listening to the history of the product, or how these rules/manners were born - rather than forcing people to follow.

I believe it is just the time that we have to make changes.
I just want to make this industry more fun.

What aspects of Japanese culture are woven into the design/process/wearing of the Kimono?
Japanese expression of beauty is very detailed and sensitive. They spend so much time to express this beauty. For example, some Kimonos have a shiny part, right? It comes from a Beetle called Tamamushi. People wove them into Kimonos. They focus more on how to make it beautiful that productivity. It was also used as a formal cloth to wear in front of God.

How has western clothing culture affected young peoples fashion tastes in Japan? Do you think it's a positive or negative influence?
It has a huge influence. Everyone is wearing western clothes nowadays. It is much more comfortable and convenient. Also by having western cloth around, the value/quality and of course problems of Kimono stands up even more. Kimono is obviously not for your work cloth. It is just not comfortable for that.
I believe western cloth and Japanese cloth can co-exist together. I still believe Japanese cloth is the best amongst all the traditional clothes in the world.

it seems Japanese love quality over quantity. Why do you think that is?
Japanese people do not like wasting time. In general, we dislike wasting things that are limited/given. Do you know “Yaorozu no Kami”? The direct translation is “God of eight million” - means that there are Gods in everything, like water, cloth, food, house, anything. Japanese people also take care of their ancestors, inherited lands, and of course lives. Rather than a possession, they take it as something that they took over and will eventually have to pass down, like a button.
So naturally, they tend to look after things very well.
And that applies to products people make. This is something I’m offering to my customer, so I have to make this as good as it can be regardless of whether someone is watching you or not.

Do you plan on inheriting the Kimono business in the future? How do you feel about it?
I came back to my hometown for that reason. However, I don’t want to just take over my parents business as they are. I’m not interested in just mimicking the procedure. I want to take over the business while also developing it further.
I am very interested in media, such as videos and blogs. And I want to make it interesting and fun. For example, we have this kimono that has a value of around £100k. I want to do some research on why it is worth that much, where it comes from, and turn it into a video. In that way, I believe people will get more curious about the story. Have more ideas - I want to organize a karaoke party at my site. While people are singing and dancing they can try some Kimonos, and if they like it they can consider buying it. I want to make it a place where people comes and socialize.

I have done some other jobs before, but I don’t want to work just for a salary. If I have to work, I want to do something exciting.