advertisement

Kyoto's Nishijin weavers, whose history can be traced back to Kyoto's earliest years, were famous for richly decorative textiles, made into clothing worn by the Imperial family, Buddhist monks, and Shinto priests. By the Edo Period (1603–1867), there were an estimated 7,000 looms crammed into 160 city blocks comprising the Nishijin District. Unsurprisingly, the district suffered a terrible blow when the capital was moved to Tokyo, but the industry bounced back by adopting Western weaving technology and equipment, which allowed them to produce machine-woven inexpensive clothing alongside luxurious hand-woven fabrics. Today, Nishijin is one of the country's largest districts for hand weaving, with this commemorative museum located on the very spot where merchants once gathered to bid for elegant textiles sold at auction.  On display are silkworms and descriptions of how they produce silk, old and modern Nishijin fabrics, and looms, with frequent demonstrations of handlooms using the Jacquard system of perforated cards for weaving. One of the best things to do here is to attend one of the museum's free 15-minute kimono fashion shows held seven times daily (the first show is at 10am and the last at 4pm), showcasing kimono that change with the seasons. With advance reservations, you can also dress up as a maiko (geisha apprentice), geiko (professional entertainer), or lady of the Imperial court in a 12-layer kimono. These, along with an ancient ceremonial court dress for men, cost ¥10,000, including hair styling, makeup, and photo. There are also simpler everyday kimono you can put on for ¥2,600, or, if you're so inclined, you can wander around Kyoto in full garb from 9am to 4pm for ¥3,600. If you have three hours, you can also weave your own table mat for ¥1,800 or scarf for ¥5,000. For those with limited time, a shop sells Nishijin products and fabrics, including kimono, sashes, purses, and more.