Knit Japan

Irashaimase! Yokouso. Come on in and welcome to the Knit Japan page.

I’ve lived in Japan for more than twenty years but it was only in the last few that I have been knitting and checked out the Japan knitting scene. My observations follow my experience, but also my perceptions so others may have some different points of view.

First, a word about globally popular Japanese knitting words and how to pronounce them:

Japanese, unlike English. is a relatively non-stressed language so most of the time each syllable has equal stress. Also, vowel pronunciation is simple and invariable. A is always “ah,” e is always “eh,” i is always “ee,” o is always a clipped “oh,” and u is always “oo.” Period.

amigurumi-(編み包み, “knitted stuffed animals”- pronounced “ah-mee-goo-roo-mee” with all syllables equally stressed).

yubiami-literally “finger knitting”- pronounced “yoo-bee-ah-mee” with all syllables equally stressed)

shibori-(絞り染め (ぼりぞめ) traditionally, has nothing to do with knitting. It is knotted, intricately tie-dyed silk used as a sash (obi) or undersash (obiage) for kimono or yukata (summer cotton informal kimono). Recently a book came out, Shibori Knits, where the author innovated a felting technique that looks like shibori.

Knitting is popular in its own way here but does not enjoy the huge boom it has recently had in the West. Knitting is not indigenous to Japan. Weaving and other fiber crafts are, but have focused more on plant fibers (cotton, bamboo, hemp, etc.) than animal fibers. In general, because Japan is highly influenced by strict seasonal observances in all activities, knitting is a winter thing and goes into a general decline the rest of the year (except at my house!). Also, for reasons that I don’t fully understand, the sock-knitting boom never made a dent here. Designated sock-yarn remains difficult to find in Japanese knitting stores. Also, hand-dyed yarns exist but aren’t popular. Actually, I know of two very cool shops specializing in hand-dyed yarns (one was Mother Earth, lovely place but alas Azabu shop closed!) that opened and quickly closed due to lack of business. No stigma so much but basically men don’t knit in Japan (with a notable exception!). Yarn, like basically everything but especially anything imported (there are quite a few Japan Yarn companies as well), is very expensive.

So, what goes on? Well, knitting falls into one of several categories that are uniquely Japanese and quite interesting. One group of knitters is old ladies who learned as young girls. they knit lacy, fussy old lady shawls made with thick, sturdy, boring, wool yarn, to be worn over kimono in winter and wooly, itchy haramaki (belly warmers). Another group is young women, who exclusively knit stockinette acrylic “mufflers” as love tokens for their boyfriends. Next comes, by far the largest group, youngish to middle-aged women, who have free time, disposable incomes, and will devote themselves to develop the astonishing expertise to their craft that is the byword of Japanese art forms. These are the women who have developed amigurumi, the art of super-cute knitted animals, and yubiami, the finger knitting form popularized by Mitsuharu Hirose, the Knitting Prince. In addition, with this group, its all about sweaters. And what sweaters! The artistry and complexity of these pieces make many Western sweater designs look like kindergarten projects. I admire agog from afar but will never have the skill or interest for such perfection/mastery. Finally, there is art/fashion knitting as personified by such creative personalities as Setsuko Torii, top designer of Habu Textiles, Shigesato Itoi of Hobonichi, Nuno, of course, the ubiquitous Issey Miyake. The list goes on . . . Love love love this stuff and can’t wait for the long-anticipated English edition of Torii’s book to come out.

Japanese yarn shops are generally very small and not very artfully arranged or welcoming to knit groups or classes. Small classes may happen but are closed, insular affairs. There isn’t the sense of trying to expand the business or welcome new knitters. Admittedly, space is a premium but also, knitting just isn’t considered “cool” or “trendy’; it is a hobby/craft for ladies. Period. That said, there are a couple of foreign/Japanese Stitch-and-Bitch or that type groups in Tokyo. One was founded by Kat Mok of Pinku. Great, friendly group but very inconveniently (for me) happening on monthly Tuesday evenings.

For some comprehensive learning about Japanese knitting, including pattern charts—Japanese use charts rather than written instructions— see The ABC’s of Japanese Knitting in English.

Check out the short but excellent blurb entitled Knitting in Japan on the One Mason Place website.

Any questions? Additions? Let me know about what you think of this at hami.monoATyahoo.com (replace AT with @).

Ja mata ne. See ya.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Frank
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 16:24:02

    Where can I buy a wooly haramaki?

    Reply

  2. Marylouise Amundsen
    Mar 05, 2010 @ 17:13:12

    Fantastic posting, thanks a lot!

    Reply

  3. tacoma fuji
    Jan 26, 2011 @ 06:39:16

    I got here when I was searching for Japanese knit/yarn shop in the U.S.A.

    I found one in L.A,CA so far.

    Reply

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