For Kyoko Omoda, mizuhiki – the decorative art of knotting – is a special way to connect people to Japanese culture through gift giving, and she hopes to use her experience to help others reconnect with the past.
“It’s a distinctively Japanese tradition of hospitality that not only places importance on the gift, but reflects the thoughtfulness of the sender by taking so much care in the way it is wrapped,” said Omoda, who started learning the art from a friend 10 years ago when their family moved to Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture.
After spending part of her youth in Kenya and Indonesia, Omoda, 52, found herself looking for a way to connect with her Japanese cultural identity upon her return. Mizuhiki has proven to be a powerful connection.
Kanazawa is one of the places where mizuhiki flourished. There she found herself enamored of the colorful ornamental cords mostly based on thin Japanese-style thongs. washi paper. The bands are twisted to form knots and reveal patterns, each carrying a meaning such as ‘longevity’ or ‘everlasting bond’.
In Japan, mizuhiki is most often used to tie packages or envelopes with different designs for events such as weddings or funerals.
It was also a basic offering in Yuinō engagement ceremonies, although in recent years couples have tended to forgo the formality of reciprocating the yuinō.
Mizuhiki is said to date back to the ancient Asuka period of the 6th to 8th centuries when an envoy from Japan to China during the Sui Dynasty (581-618) returned home with a Sui envoy who brought gifts tied and decorated with red and white hemp. strings. From being a luxury item, mizuhiki eventually evolved over the years into a product widely used by the general public.
In today’s Japan, mizuhiki has gained ground, with artists producing products ranging from earrings and other accessories, New Year’s decorations, and items used in daily life.
“There is so much history in mizuhiki,” said Omoda, whose passion and acquisition of mizuhiki skills made him wish more formal recognition.
She said, “There was no qualifying exam for mizuhiki students and I thought that would motivate us more (if there was any).”
Finally, in 2019 she created the Modern Mizuhiki Association, of which she is the representative director. Based in Tokyo, she transformed it into a general incorporated association to give more credibility to the certification program for mizuhiki taishi, or mizuhiki ambassadors.
“They will not only teach, but also act as ambassadors to promote and transmit mizuhiki in Japan and beyond,” said Omoda, who is one of the six teachers. The number of students, both in Japan and abroad, is now around 200.
Students who have passed the Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced levels and who are supported by their mentors will now have the right to try to be ‘ambassadors’ – a certification given after successfully creating original products and conducting a simulation of Classes.
Yukari Jo, a Tokyo-based flower designer who is one of the few current ambassadors, combines flowers and mizuhiki in her designs, two elements that she believes are similar to bring “comfort” to recipients.
The association’s chance to reach a wider audience came during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games after Omoda, who also teaches in English, was invited to perform a mizuhiki demonstration as part of the cultural events of the games. However, in a setback, all live aspects of its protests have been moved online due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Among the passionate Omoda students abroad is Canada’s Meg Langlais. The 22-year-old college student’s connection to mizuhiki comes from her Japanese great-grandmother, Margaret Doi.
Last Christmas, Langlais received a mizuhiki kit from his mother. She also received tools and parts of mizuhiki used by her great-grandmother.
“It makes me feel connected to her even though I’ve never met her,” Langlais said, adding that their family members had lost touch with their Japanese roots from her grandmother’s generation due to the internment of Japanese Canadians in camps during World War II.
Her family couldn’t be happier and proud of her for choosing mizuhiki to embrace their Japanese ancestry.
Langlais recalled the challenge of finding reference documents in English. But she created an Instagram account to share her passion and found her mentor in Omoda.
“Mizuhiki is very unknown in Canada, unlike origami. I would like others to know the meaning of knots like a long and healthy life or friendship, ”Langlais said.
She has already opened workshops for teaching mizuhiki in her school, including with Japanese students, walking a bit on the path of an ambassador for mizuhiki.
One day, she hopes to obtain the certificate to officially become a Mizuhiki Ambassador and spread the word.
“It’s more than just a job,” she said. “It creates a bond with people. “
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