Area will offer great opportunities to learn about the local culture, as well as the wonderful world of kimono craftsmanship.

In today’s turbulent climate, many people are looking back to the simpler-seeming scenes of bygone days. Nostalgia for the olden times, smaller communities and classic culture is everywhere, so it’s unsurprising that when the Yamagata Prefecture town of Shikata went looking for ways to revitalize their economy they decided to cater to that nostalgic passion in full force, with a new “kimono retreat hotel” that will open in the spring of 2021 anchored in a notable historic site: the Okuyama samurai residence.

The Okuyama Residence was once the home of Japanese samurai and politician Uesugi Yozan, a daimyo (regional lord) in the 18th and 19th centuries admired by John F. Kennedy for his populist policies, frugal manner of living despite his high status, and commitment to industry and education. He famously decreed, “The lord exists for the sake of the state and the people: the state and the people do not exist for the sake of the lord”; a surprisingly humble statement from a government official at the time. Apparently Uesugi and the landlord of the former Okumura Residence were on good terms, and he was directly responsible for encouraging sericulture — the industry of raising silkworms for silk production — in the surrounding town.

His property was then passed into the ownership of renowned kimono company Tomohiro, which has been in business for over 400 years and continues today. The company utilized the main building as well as its warehouses for kimono production and is now entering into a collaboration with Ukitam, a company that revitalizes local economies, as well as Takamiya Ryokan, a local traditional inn, and a host of other investors.

▼ A proposed plan for the property, using each of its five buildings.

The plan will assumedly allow visitors to stay on the historic property itself, due to Takamiya Ryokan’s involvement and their stated mission plan of opening a “retreat hotel”. Then, during this immersive stay, guests may absorb the local culture and learn about the traditional way of life in the town of Shirataka. Local farmers, artisans, and business owners have been invited to share their friendly expertise for the initiative so that guests can learn traditional crafts and aspects of small-town daily living throughout the town’s history.

Tomohiro has plenty of knowledge to offer patrons of the hotel, too. Initially a pharmacy and seller of medicinal herbs, the company switched to silk production and weaving, wherein they provided kimonos woven to contain alleged “health benefits” to protect its wearer. Who better to run workshops on kimono craft?

▼ A potential glimpse at a workshop set-up.

The high number of collaborators on the project, the sheer volume of workshops and qualitative historical sources, and the novel approach to presenting less-familiar historical culture mean that the renovated Okuyama Residence is bound to appeal to kimono maniacs, fans of local delights and history buffs near and far. It sounds like a refreshing and educational way to enjoy some lesser-known culture, and exercise your crafting skills at the same time!

Source, images: PR Times
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