Kimono Project: 213 kimonos created to represent countries competing in Tokyo Olympics

Each custom-made garment represents ‘harmony and unity’ and took six years to complete, costing almost $20,000 per piece

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An ambitious project to represent each of the countries taking part in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games with a custom-made kimono has been completed.

The Kimono Project, by Japanese organisation Imagine One World, was launched in August 2014 and took six years to complete in preparation for the Games, which were delayed from summer 2020 to 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. It has been led by Yoshimasa Takakura, designer and founder of Imagine One World.

Every country competing in the Games is represented by a kimono and obi, the country’s national dress and the accompanying broad sash.

Regionally, kimonos have been made for the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar. In total, 213 have been created for the Games. While that does not tally with the 205 countries taking part, a kimono was made for North Korea, before it withdrew, and for each of the nations that make up Great Britain.

Also included are “countries that Japan has diplomatic relations but without Olympic committees, including Niue and Vatican City,” Kimono Project spokeswoman Orie Shimizu tells The National. Shimizu says there was a “special request” for a French Polynesian kimono, too.

“Through our creativity, we have found a lot of beautiful scenery, cultures and the pride of each country. As we learn well about a country, we found that our attachment to the country was naturally enhanced,” Shimizu says.

“We continue to believe that the kimono is the best way to express our respect for each country, because they are designed with wishes of happiness and prosperity to those who wear them. We hope the world will recognise through our project that no matter how different our religions, economic or political conditions are, beauty is a joy we can all share. From this point of view, we can join hands together with every country to make harmony and unity.”

We believe that the kimono is the best way to express our respect for each country because they are designed with wishes of happiness and prosperity to those who wear them
Orie Shimizu, the Kimoni Project

The kimonos and obis are not on public display, as was initially planned, owing to Covid-19 restrictions. However, it is hoped that they will be shown during Expo 2025, which is due to be held in Osaka, Japan.

Shimizu confirmed that the full set for each country cost ¥2 million ($18,300), which includes the kimono, obi and smaller accessories. They have all been handmade with traditional methods, each taking between one and two years to craft.

“We wanted to show that Japanese elaborate dyeing and weaving techniques are not just ancient art forms, but a living art that we still have today, with many artisans active throughout Japan,” Shimizu says.

The UAE’s kimono was created by Katsuhiro Morikawa from Tokyo. It shows the Dubai skyline, with the Burj Khalifa, Emirates Towers and Gevora Hotel all standing tall, with an Arabic tile pattern, camels walking on sand dunes, palm leaves and a golden sun featured. The top of the kimono features a flying falcon, and a pattern that resembles several rows of intricate gold chains. The obi is predominantly gold, with a delicate cream and blue pattern.

According to Shimizu, Morikawa incorporated old and new elements of the country in his design, and with the seven emirates represented with seven key colours. The richness of the nation is expressed through the material chosen – a silk thread intertwined with gold foil, and woven with elements of Middle Eastern design.

The majority of the pieces were made by Japanese designers using traditional methods, except for two. The Palestinian obi was made by a group of refugees, and the Indonesian kimono was decorated with batik, the country’s traditional method of wax-resistant dyeing.

“It was one of the interesting parts of our project," Shimizu says of Palestine’s obi, which was designed by Maki Yamamoto. "There are various techniques, locality or design patterns of dyeing and weaving in Japan. [Lead designer] Takakura thought deeply to fit the image of the country with the creator's art style when he assigned who was in charge.

“Regarding the Palestinian kimono, we knew Maki Yamamoto had a long experience of working with Palestinian embroiderers to make obis, so we assigned her as a designer.”

In a Facebook post, Yamamoto explained that the Palestinian obi took two years to make and she visited the country six times during the process, at her own expense. She collaborated with the Society of Inash al Usra, a higher education foundation that offers scholarships to university students in Palestine.

Yamamoto says she participated in the project because, although it would be a “challenge”, it would be a “great opportunity to showcase Palestinian embroidery to people all over the world”.

Updated: August 06, 2021, 6:34 AM