2014 Kyoto Prize Laureate Fukumi Shimura
Living National Treasure Seeks to Keep the Tradition of Dyeing and Weaving Alive
Fukumi Shimura is not only the 2014 Arts and Philosophy Kyoto Prize Laureate, but was also certified by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology as a Living National Treasure in 1990. Born in 1924 and currently living in Kyoto, Ms. Shimura is a dyeing and weaving artist who went from studying the beauty of tsumugi kimono to developing her own original style of the art using a colorful range of plant-dyed yarns. She now teaches the traditional folk craft to others with her daughter, Yoko. The Kyoto Prize, Japan’s highest private award for global achievement, was established by the Inamori Foundation in 1985 to honor those who have contributed signi cantly to the scientific, cultural and spiritual betterment of mankind. Ms. Shimura spoke with Tokyo Journal during her March 2015 visit to San Diego, California for the annual Kyoto Prize Symposium.
TJ: What was your first reaction after hearing about the Kyoto Prize?
SHIMURA: It took me by surprise. I had never thought that what I was doing would be worth an award. But after realizing what I received, I feel like what I have been doing is a kind of calling for me.
TJ: What is the most important thing to keep in mind when you weave or dye textiles?
SHIMURA: To respect nature. Even plants are superior to human beings. They are very venerable. Human beings have been sel shly destroying nature to take advantage of it, but in fact, even a single tree has a soul that we should respect as something superior to us.
TJ: Have industrialization and the growing global population made the process for your artwork difficult?
SHIMURA: It has become very difficult. Nature has been destroyed so much that we must be concerned about it perishing in the near future. I suppose this sense of crisis drove me to open a school.
TJ: Can you tell us about the school?
SHIMURA: Today we are facing a global crisis. I have had a strong sense that the world has been drastically heading towards catastrophe, beginning with 9/11. When 3/11 happened and the nuclear power plant disaster occurred, Japan was hit hard enough to make people think the country was over, so I thought this traditional work needed to be something that more people could get engaged in as an ethnic group, rather than as an individual’s work. So, I decided to open the school to pass this traditional art down to as many young people as possible. I’m not just teaching dyeing or weaving, but I’m teaching Japanese tradition and spirituality through textile arts.
TJ: What inspires you?
SHIMURA: I get my inspiration from many things. Artwork has its own narrative. It’s not just a work. Japanese textile arts especially have their own narrative.
TJ: How do you think Japanese textile art compares with textile art in other countries?
SHIMURA: Japanese textile arts have a 1,200-year-old history, dating back to the Heian era. Its highly advanced technique and spirituality have continued on through the Muromachi, Momoyama and Edo eras. It is too advanced for the machine industry to keep up with, as its nature is very different. Even Japanese people do not know that. I don’t think young people who wear Western clothes every day would think about that.
TJ: How has the art of kimono changed over time?
SHIMURA: It’s been a very tough time. For example, most women do not wear kimono. They wear Western clothes only. Japan has been abandoning this precious part of its culture because of the inconvenience. Kimono needs to be well cared for and it’s not cheap. I understand those aspects well but I also believe that Japanese women look the most beautiful in kimono, so I hope as many Japanese women as possible will wear kimono.
TJ: How are colors important in your work?
SHIMURA: Colors are the soul of the world. They really are. They are not just “colors.”
TJ: How does the Tale of Genji feature in your work and your artistic vision?
SHIMURA: I think the Tale of Genji is one of the best works of literature in Japan and the world. It seemed too much for me to express its world with my work, but I love the book so much that I made a series inspired by it.
TJ: What are your goals for the future?
SHIMURA: To deepen what I’ve been doing and pass it down to as many young people as possible.
TJ: What has been the happiest moment in your career?
SHIMURA: I have a happy moment almost every day. I am the happiest when a beautiful color appears unexpectedly. tj
The complete article can be found in Issue #277 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.