Sanada-himo is a flat cord woven with warp and weft yarns using a loom. It is said to be the world’s narrowest weave, measuring only 6 mm at its narrowest point, and was originally used to carry armor, swords, tea ceremony utensils, luggage, and other items. Sanada-himo master Konan uses these Sanada cords to make various items such as bracelets and interior decorations.
We interviewed Mr. Isao Wada, the 15th generation of Sanada-himo Master Konan, who has been making the craft for over 500 years since the Warring States Period.
—Please tell us about your background.
I was born and raised in Kyoto, Japan and had been to school in Nara since junior high school. After high school, I went to the U.S. and got into a Christian boarding school for boys in Pennsylvania for three years. The school was a little bit different from a normal high school as it was a high school that helped students to do what they wanted to do. For example, if a student liked sports, the teachers would approach various places and create pathways for him or her to become an athlete.
In my case, since I was good at art and submitted my works to competitions, I could win various awards. Once, I received a blue ribbon from the Scholastic Art Awards and was able to become the best in the country (laugh).
I even had an exhibition at the White House due to my achievements. In my graduation year, I went to talk to the art school affiliated with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston myself and was interviewed, and my achievements were recognized and I could get a place. After graduation, I returned to Japan and took over this job from my parents.
—Did you play any sports?
I didn’t do much, but I did kendo (sword martial arts ) when I was in junior high school. Originally, Sanada-himo was used for cords of armor and sword cord, etc. I thought that without learning martial arts, I would not be able to understand the actual use of Sanada-himo, so I started kendo. I am not athletic by nature, so I don’t do many sports (laughs).
—Is there anyone you admire?
He is Masayuki Sanada, the father of Yukimura Sanada. Sanada-himo was originally brought to Japan as a cord to bind luggage, but Masayuki Sanada thought of ways to use Sanada-himo effectively, such as using it for armor. I really respect his flexibility.
Then, I also respect Sen no Rikyu. It was Sen no Rikyu who came up with the idea of using Sanada-himo for paulownia boxes.
Until then, only aristocrats and people of high rank were allowed to use Kumihimo for lacquered boxes for tea ceremony, but Sen no Rikyu was the one who introduced it to the general public. I respect him because he thought of a way to use Sanada-himo to make the most of its promises and rules. Sen no Rikyu is also my ancestor (laughs).
—What is your current job description?
Basically, I do everything related to Sanada-himo. I make Sanada-himo cords, give advice on the craft, and recently I have been giving lectures and teaching young people about the cord in hands-on classes for school trip. I also give lectures to people from all walks of life, such as at annual meetings for the tea ceremony people, and at national museums. Nowadays, Sanada-himo is out of fashion and no one knows about it, so I have started receiving offers to give lectures and other events to tell people about Sanada-himo.
—Is there any part of your work that is second to none?
This is probably the oldest Sanada-himo store and the only store specializing in Sanada-himo. Because of Kyoto’s tea culture, there is also rules of Sanadahimo, so one of our strengths is that we can give advice on these rules.
—What are some of your most rewarding moments?
It is interesting when I make a prototype using Sanada-himo and it turns out to be something unexpected. It is also interesting to hear feedback from customers who use it in ways different from how it is supposed to be used, and to discover new ways of using it.
—What is your vision for the future?
It’s not so much that I want to do it myself, but I think there is a lot of potential for Sanada-himo. I was reading a book about the structure of Sanada-himo, and I came across a space elevator, which is an elevator to space. The rails are made of woven carbon nanotubes, and the structure is exactly the same as Sanada-himo. We have not yet realized a space elevator, but we would like to expand the possibilities of Sanada-himo because it can be used for various purposes.
— is your message to aspiring artisans?
I think there is an image that craftspeople stay at home and do their work, but I think it is important to understand the importance of communication with people. I believe that interacting with people stimulates and inspires ideas, and if you stay at home and make things without communicating with people, you will end up making things that are self-indulgent. I think it is very important for a craftsman to make things for others and to communicate with them. Recently, there are many young people who want to become craftsmen because they can work alone in their homes, but it is difficult to become a craftsman unless you can communicate with others. I hope that those who aspire to become craftsmen will value communication with others, get inspiration and ideas from others, and make good crafts.