kubota itchiku museum
Photo © Japan Guide.

When in Japan, you tend to see a lot of tourists dressed up in the flashiest rental kimonos, me included. Meanwhile, locals would go for the more understated high-quality ones with 1000 thread count (is that high?) or something. But these kimonos are on a completely different level.

Enter Kubota Itchiku, who was completely enamoured by tsujigahana that he decided to bring that lost art of dyeing back to life.

So off we went, and we were greeted by one hell of a gate.

kubota itchiku museum entrance

After my mom insisted I take photos of her in the sloped garden with its strange looking chairs, we reached the reception hall. Bought our tickets, went through the gift shop and Itchiku’s personal collection of anthropological items from abroad (including the Philippines), passed on the glass exhibition as it was closed, and exited to another garden seemingly inspired by Gaudi. Time was not on our side, so we immediately headed to the pièce de résistance, the main exhibition hall.

kubota itchiku museum garden
kubota itchiku symphony of light kimono
Photo © Munson Williams Proctor Art Institute. Photography of the kimonos is not permitted.

Finally, 𝓴𝓲𝓶𝓸𝓷𝓸𝓼! A little old lady greeted and directed us to a 15min documentary about Kubota Itchiku’s life. As we were watching, I overheard a visiting French woman excitedly thanking the usherette, claiming the kimonos are “the most spectacular I’ve seen.” Much hype.

Kubota Itchiku, summarized badly

At age 20, he saw a piece of tsujigahana kimono, fell in love, and was determined to recreate it, despite it being a lost textile-dyeing technique from the 14th-16th century. Got married, got conscripted into the army during WW2, became a prisoner of war and one day , saw the sun setting into the Siberian mountains and the sight was seared into his brain and hope renewed within him. Upon coming back to Japan, he set to work on recreating the tsujigahana technique but ended up creating his own style which involved painstakingly tie-dying, painting and embroidering each little detail.

By age 60, he had his first exhibition in Tokyo showcasing his kimonos, which led to more shows, even becoming the first living artist to have an exhibition in the Smithsonian. He also made what he considered his magnum opus, “Burning Sun” which depicts the Siberian setting sun. Before his death, he was working on a collection of 80 “landscape” kimonos called the Symphony of Light but only reached 40, with his son and daughter continuing the rest.

burning sun by kubota itchiku
The Burning Sun. Photo © The Kubota Collection. This kimono wasn’t present during our visit.

The kimonos weren’t encased in glass, since that would make the details difficult to see, and glaring studio lights + gold embroidery don’t mix well. Instead they were simply placed on stands so you could view it as far or as close as you’d like, with little nameplates on the floor so you’d know which kimono is which.

Around we slowly went, taking in each piece and making highly-intellectual comments such as “Wow!”, “Holy crap”, “Jesus Christ how’d he make that?”

As dumb as we sounded, it’s actually the truth. It’s amazing how intricate the details are in each kimono, and even my self-proclaimed un-artsy brother would make note of his favourites from the display. “Oooh I like this one, I quite like how the blacks are used in the composition.” When did he become an art critic.

kubota itchiku museum
Photo © The Kubota Collection.

Suffice to say, the whole collection was breath-taking. You’re not allowed to photograph, much less touch the kimono on display so all we could do was admire. And admire we did.

For your visit

  • Get your tickets at a discount when you ask the information center in Kawaguchiko Station. It can be found at the left-most side when facing the station, while the toilets and the smoking area are at the right-side. They’ll hand you a flyer which you present when buying tickets from the exhibition hall at the museum.
  • Tickets were priced at 1300 JPY but discounted at 1100 JPY at the time.
  • Get there via the Red Loop line from Kawaguchiko Station.
  • Alternatively, take a taxi from the taxi lane at Kawaguchiko Station if you’re a party of 3-4 as taxi fares and short distances tend to cost just a bit more compared to bus fares.
  • Visit duration took us about an hour since it’s a small museum.
  • The kimonos on display are constantly on rotation. As of December 19, most of the kimonos are from the Fuji series.
  • Make sure to check the dates when they’re open here at their site.

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