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Rising and Most Promising Japanese Embroidery Artist: Takuma Fukumori
Of Destiny and Grit: A Love Affair with Shishu
Judging from his ikemen looks and appearance, one would easily shrug him off to be a lanky lad who is very much mundane to his existence. One could pass him just for a lofty and jolly hair model or a stylist for that matter, however, as fate would have it, he is more than just his good lucks and proportions. Honestly, things did not come easy to this young rising star of the already dying, albeit aging, field of traditional Japanese embroidery as he is known more to be - the only youngest shishu embroidery artist that is quite socially active in marketing his craft and skills.
Growing up from Miyazaki Prefecture down Kyushu and attempting early to be independent at a young age, young Takuma would decide to attend the then-prestigous Air Force High School in Kumagaya, Saitama - an elite boarding high school under the wing of the Japanese Air Force. This young man would later stumble upon his serendipitous fate and love affair with embroidery or Shishu in Japanese. "It was when back then during my high school years that I had to fix and repair the patches of our uniforms because the threads were slowly throwing up in many directions as we washed them over the years", recalls Fukumori with a reminiscent feel and look. "I was 18 back then that I realized that this is what I wanted to do. I researched and studied patterns and rediscovered the world of the sukajan," he adds. Out of deep curiosity struggle with the uncertain future about continuing to Air Force as a career, he ponders well but, "At that time, I knew and I decided that it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life."
So it was his stint at this exclusive but now-dissolved school for Japan's Elite service corps of Air Force Pilots that eventually pulled his fate to effect and arrive at this big turning point of his life. Later on, he would frantically call around and looking for a place to serve as an apprentice and disciple to further train and hone his newly-found passion and set of skills at that time. At that time, he was full of hopes of dreams that would later drag on to around 5 years while turning tables and doing part-timers here and there supporting himself and paying for his "apprenticeship fees" to his master.
After high school, he moved to Kiryu, Gunma - a town long known for its silk and textile industry since the post world war. It was in this place that he "trained and worked" under a master. He would later receive some work handed down unto him from the likes of Tailor Toyo and the Real McCoys or the staunch of Japanese-made rockabilly fashion and souvenir jacket wear.
At first, he was full of expectations, dreams and positivity in learning the gripes of the craft but as he set his heart into it, he would find himself intertwined in the very complex drama/relationships that weave the community of these craftsmen in the local town of Kiryu in Gunma which was a few towns away from where he spent his high school. He would further recall, "It was not easy really, there were times I had and wanted to give up on that dream of becoming a shishu artist despite the personal struggle and hardships I was having just to support my apprenticeship to this master. There I found myself, entangled between the complex relationships among these craftsmen in this community that had inherited it from the older generations who started this sukajan industry after the WWII," he further mused.
For posterity's sake, little is really know about the history and roots of this sukajan making business but it is known among those who involved in the industry that "the souvenir jacket" miracle started as a small commerce serving the American GIs, army and military personnel who are about to finish their stint and service based in Japan. The place where it really flourished is thus known as Yokosuka, Kanagawa. During that time, many shishu artists, craftsmen and such were based in Gunma and it is said that during the start of the early trade of souvenir jackets, most household makers and crafters would knapsack a bunch-full loads of jackets they made and they would make long and gruesome trips to Yokosuka just to peddle their jackets to these GIs. Along the line, some of them would letter settle and move in Yokosuka or around that just to make things more efficient in their business. The technique traditionally used was "yokobori" which literally means to carve/sew sideways which was made possible by the sewing machines during that time. Later on and lately, this technique has slowly faded away because of the lost demand for traditional sewing and embroidering them. Also partly, it was due to the advancements in automation and machines that embroidery these days are made very simple by computer program-guided machines which literally paints threads into the textile which allowed more intensive and complex designs possible that only those craftsmen could imagine at that time. So literally, it has come to a point where it became something like - Analog vs. Digital. With mass production came the likes of the most recent brands such as SCRIPT, SATORI, KARAKURI TAMASHI, TEDMAN and the likes.
One maker - Tailor Toyo - has stood out among these ones because they are trying to live up to the tradition of making these souvenir jackets, trying to be as faithful as possible to the old ways and styles, tastes and genre that it once magnificently represented during that era. That would still remain the steadfast of this brand and would explain for the expensive prices they could get since they would be manufactured and made in really small lots and numbers which makes them a very collectible piece of fashion and art, all rolled into one.
Going back to Fukumori, apprentice life has never been easy, he was used roughly and tasked to do menial stuff and totally unrelated errands in spite of him still paying his "sensei" to teach him and give him work in return for supposedly "taking care" of him and "training him" formally and things that normally you expect your teacher or master. The odds and future seamed bleak to him already and started on contemplating seriously about quitting and running away because of unkept promises to him by his "sensei". Apart from that, there were rounds of "uwasa" or gossips that were circulated about him which until this very moment still bothers him and false information about his aspirations and character that were spread among the grey-haired, pension-thriving craftsmen community in Gunma. He found out about the discrepancy of those information and he thought that there was this black propaganda that is going around the community of embroiderers about his character which quite pissed him, shoving him down mentally and psychologically. All in all, a bleak future under an incapable master with no or little promise of real "work" and personal career development prompted him to really decide to move away and find his luck somewhere if he were to cling on his dream of becoming a full-fledge artist capable of sustaining a life out of this chosen path.
When the push comes to shove, miracles and things start to happen really.
Reckoning moments way back during his apprenticeship days, he would be promised work and constant jobs to fulfill his dream of becoming a full-fledge artist, however, that has never been realized in spite of the long grueling and mentally exhausting 5 years he dedicated to his master. According to him he would be doing Tailor Toyos, Real McCoys on behalf of his sensei, however the pay was not that even good and there were some instance that he did not get any pay either for some of the work he did for them and his sensei. Essentially, this enflamed and burned his desire all the more to quit totally and leave his sensei to start his own path somewhere, somehow. He would even recall how he now despised it and this stage of his life where he learnt and grabbed most of the skills he has now by himself alone. Half-laughing at himself, he could only feel ashamed of shelling out about 1 Million Yen as "gratis" money to this money in return for little or nothing. But past is past so he now stumbles on himself facing another battle - the dilemma of establishing oneself and being independent.
After this clash of generational differences between Fukumori and his traditional sensei and the community he belonged there in Gunma, he finally settled not so far in Toda, Saitama, hoping to get close to Tokyo because the real-estate agents there are really fussy about one's background and economic capacity prior to renting a place. It was followed by weeks of intensive self-reflection and adjusting to being alone. But technology really proved to be very helpful for this ambitious man. Without hesitation, "I did a cold-turkey approach to selling myself on Twitter," then while sipping his cold beer for this interview he burst, "There I realized the "otaku power", they saved me literally from losing myself and my dedication to my craft. I tweeted a photo of anime embroidery which I did and there came a flock of requests to embroider similar designs on their own jackets/jumpsuits."
After making one order to another, he is now able to present himself and his works as a portfolio in the form of the uber-cool tokkofuku that he made for his otaku patrons who would spend everything they have for their love and admiration of their favorite anime personalities and idols. Not only did it save him economically and survival-speaking but gave him a push of confidence and motivation against the threat of leaving everything he trained himself more if he could not find a way to feed himself with this craft.
Lucky him, as orders would pile up and saving a little for his next step and move in his career, he would be able to move into inner Urawa, Saitama where he currently maintains his atelier doing all the made-to-order embroidery and jacket orders he gets from his fans in his twitter and instagram accounts. As bold as he is, he would later make embroidery portraits of icons such Eikichi Yazawa, the owner and founder of Sushi Zanmai group, and the charisma owner of the Liberty Walk line of heavily modified and customized Lamborghini cars - Wataru Kato-san.
Right now, he has just finished another personal project and about to start another dream of putting up and setting up his personal line and brand of embroidered caps that are Japonesque which draws inspirations from these souvenir jacket tradition that he now embodies as the only youngest living shishu artist that is bold in his works and style. He still maintains proudly that he can surpass the creativity and skills of his predecessors while using the traditional yokobori technique and we believe that this staunch confidence but humble style will give him a quantum leap advantage in advancing and promoting the beauty of this purely cultural and partly historical Japanese tradition that we all would be happy to admire and respect.
Made-to-Order Souvenir Jacket / Sukajan
Japan Lover Me Store shall be officially representing Shishumania or Takuma Fukumori as a Japanese Shishu Artist. For commissioned works, collaborations and lecture invitations and anything in between, please send us a brief description of your proposal and request and we will try to get back to you regarding our position. We will be also accepting requests to make made-to-order sukajan and souvenir jackets or other forms of embroidery projects, preferably on clothing by the artist himself.
Please note that it might take some time for completion and the fees could become a little bit expensive than your usual dose of ready-made and mass-produced souvenir sukajan jackets since this will be all made one by one and handmade. For further details and information about such projects, please contact us directly to discuss the rates, scope and schedule of completion.
We will be releasing an estimate price range list soon for a better idea of commissioned works.