Interview Series: “The woman with a mission”

Please follow this space for the two-part interview of Jotaki Ren on fashion, design and changing times. 

  1. Patterns of love and the kimono (this article)
  2. On patterns, principles and timeless fashion
  3. On kimonos, functionality and (dis)abilities

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It was my first day at Numabukuro – a day spent in hurried greetings with my wonderful host and rushed settling in my tatami room – that I met Jotaki Ren.

Picture of a train running on the tracks

I was having my lunch at Kitchen Origin, dressed in a peach-coloured, Indian kurta embroidered with white threads, when I noticed a petite older lady sitting at the corner looking at me. I enthusiastically bowed, wanting to practice the newly learnt ojigi rules, and was slightly taken aback when she came up to me smiling and speaking in Japanese. Knowing absolutely no Japanese, I just kept on bowing and smiling whenever it seemed appropriate and whenever she would chant sugoi, all the while waiting desperately for my manager to come and mediate the conversation. I understood that she was asking me questions about my attire as she kept running her hands through the cloth of the kurta.

Once my manager returned, I discovered that Jotaki Ren has a deep interest in fashion and traditional clothing, with a vision of making kimonos functional to be worn in everyday life like Indian kurtas. We scheduled an interview with her for later, and bid adieu amidst many more bows and heartfelt namaskars.

Around two weeks later, we met her at a coffee shop in Higashi-Nakano Station to talk more about her work and her vision of the inclusive and functional kimono. Since I do not understand Japanese, my manager took the interview simultaneously translating her answers into English for me.

Picture of a woman wearing a kimono at a local shop

“That day, when I had met you, I was actually waiting for someone else. It was a not a comfortable meeting with the person, as they kept talking about themselves, and I could not get a word in.” She laughed. “Then, I thought, the person was a mirror to me. I do the same to others.”

And so she decided that during the interview, she would only answer to questions she was asked and would not add anything to them of her own self. As my manager translated this bit to me, I felt disappointed – for I wanted to hear her story, her words spoken in merry abandon, her unfiltered self. But then, certain contexts do impose certain filters on people’s voices and behaviors inevitably. However, over the course of the interview, the words started to flow freer, trust took roots, and the interview turned to an illuminating conversation on the intimate nature of fashion and design.

Read the next article


The articles feature no pictures of Jotaki Ren respecting her wish not to be photographed. The interviews were conducted in Japanese by Rena Takiguchi. Transcribing was done by Rena Takiguchi and Chandrica Barua. The final write-ups in English are by Chandrica Barua.

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