November 17, 2020

About the School: Internationality 3 | Interview with International Students Courses Teacher Emma Omote

-Passing on the skills of handweaving-

The Internationality segment of our series introducing Kawashima Textile School (KTS). Part 3 is an interview with Emma Omote, who teaches the Beginners Course, Foundation Kasuri Course, and Applied Kasuri Course I in English, for students from overseas. She talks about her experience of living overseas, encountering textiles, thoughts on teaching handweaving and kasuri at KTS, how her students have influenced her, and the internationality seen from the school.

Emma Omote giving a presentation about KTS at Tartu Art College (now Pallas University of Applied Sciences), Estonia, 2015

◆ Making things that enrich life

Emma became an assistant at the school after graduating KTS in 2009. She started teaching the International Students Course which was created the same year, in which the Beginners Course and Kasuri Courses are taught in English, with Kozue Yamamoto, and also became the International Coordinator.

She herself has also lived abroad twice. The first time was in her childhood, in the USA. She said that as an Asian, English was a necessary skill to interact with others on an equal footing when attending the local public elementary school. The second time was in Finland, as an exchange student from Kyoto Seika University. She majored in Western Painting, wanting to study a wide range of art, and in Finland, gradually began to find what she wanted to do. "I was drawn to my Textile major friends' approach towards making, where the things they made had a clear purpose, such as "to use" or "to wear." In Finland, textiles were blended into people's lives, such as using bright textiles indoors during the dark winter. I thought it was nice to make things that enrich life."

She wanted to study a skill that was specific to Japan, so after graduating from university, she entered KTS. "I was able to acquire the skills that I wanted because KTS, which is open to anyone who wants to learn, regardless of age, nationality, or background, was there." She likes making within limitations, thinking of combinations of colors in straight lines. She makes kimono as an artist, and teaches handweaving skills at the school to students from overseas. She says she has a feeling of achieving what she was aiming for, communicating about Japan to the world.

◆ Meeting weavers from around the world

It has been about 10 years since her alma mater became her workplace, and since starting to teach people who come to study from overseas. In addition to the school's approach of teaching reliable skills in a smaller class size, she has tried to "make it a good experience for the student" and "teach so the students will be able to weave on their own, after they return to their country." "In class, I share tips on how to finish a fabric neatly, such as how to angle the weft, and how to weave evenly. I hope the students will be able to use what they learned here after they go home. That would make me very happy."

There is a sense of distance of the world that can be seen from the school. "I think that many weavers like using their hands to make things, and are patient. Even if there are differences in countries and cultures, I have the impression that people who have similarities, such as their compatibility with such skills, and values regarding handweaving, gather here." Meeting weavers from around the world is one of the joys in teaching. Through her years in teaching, her feelings about weaving start to change.

◆ What I can do for Kasuri

The fact that students "often ask about the history" led to that change. "In addition to the skills, the international students often ask about the historical background, such as what kind of tools were used in the past, and the characteristics of kasuri of each region." She came to think about handicrafts in Japan, and the people who built the tradition. "My feelings towards Kasuri became stronger, and it became more than just teaching the skills." Her consciousness of "inheriting the skills and spreading seeds around the world" grew.

"Handweaving is a skill with a long history that has continued since ancient times. In this era (where digitization is the mainstream), a unique school that intentionally specializes in handweaving, which has continued for 47 years, where I have studied and now work, exists. How can we pass on the handweaving skills of kasuri, when there are many skills that disappear because of the change of the times? I am thinking about what my role is, and what I can do for Kasuri."

KTS has more than a hundred looms, a well-maintained dyeing room, teachers specializing in weaving and dyeing, and facilities such as the dormitory. International students often say that "it's amazing that there is a school that specializes in handweaving," which continues to operate on this scale. "I hear about textile departments of universities closing overseas. I want to help KTS continue to exist as a place that people who love to weave can come to study."

About the School: Internationality Series 1/2