Now leading figures in the industry are warning that within a decade the art of traditional kimono making, a crown in Japan's cultural heritage, could die out altogether as a generation of Japanese craftsmen who have spent a lifetime using specialist skills inherited from their own parents are now in their eighties.
Soichi Sajiki, whose family has made the garments for 200 years, said: "Japan's kimono industry is at a critical stage. We are seriously struggling to find ways of passing on our precious craftsmanship to the next generation. "From the silk cocoon to the final product, there are more than 1,000 processes involved in one kimono, each carried out by different specialist craftsmen. It can take 40 years to master a single technique.
As kimonos have gone out of fashion, the number of companies making them in Tokyo has shrunk - dwindling from 217 to 24 over the past 30 years. Even in Kyoto, the historic centre for traditional Japanse culture, there are now just 64 kimono makers left. Mr Sajiki gave his warning in the refined tearooms of the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Tokyo's historic Nihonbashi district – once a major hub for the industry.
Dressed in an immaculate grey kimono fastened with a jade green clasp, Mr Sajiki, 54, gestured towards the sweeping views from the 38th floor. He said: "Nihonbashi used to be full of kimono makers. But things have changed. Sales are just one tenth of what they were were 30 years ago. "We desperately need to encourage more young people to embrace the kimono, train more young craftsmen and diversify by selling our beautiful textiles internationally."
But the youth and glamour of the accompanying concerts, fashion shows, and exhibitions were far from the staid discipline of Japan's ageing kimono makers. Among the nation's most endangered artisans are five women in their eighties who live in the remote mountains of Niigata prefecture – the only remaining people who know how to use one particular 1,000-year-old hemp weaving technique.
In his workshop in Tokyo, Mr Komiya is the only artisan still able to undertake a delicate form of handpainting kimono silk in pure gold. His own unique skills have, at least, been recognised by the governemnt, which has granted him the revered status of Living National Treasure – a living, breathing cultural asset to be protected.
Backed with government subsidies, he has been able to pass on the techniques he learnt from his own father to his son Yasumasa, 54, who in turn is training his two grandsons.
Kimono makers need to seek customers abroad, said Chie Hayakawa, communications director at the Mandarin Oriental hotel where last week's events were being held. "Kimonos are exquisitely beautiful, made from the finest silks in the world," she said. "These handcrafted fabrics should be more widely used internationally, with more collaborations with high profile fashion designers. There is so much potential."
A stone's throw from the hotel is the Nihonbashi landmark Mitsukoshi, one of Japan's oldest department stores which began its life in 1673 as a kimono store.Today, its "kimono salon" spans an entire floor and is home to more than 30,000 handcrafted costumes, one of the biggest collections of handcrafted in the country.Designs range from seasonal images - cherry blossoms, autumn leaves and sweeping scenes of nature - to delicate abstract patterns created using old dyeing techniques, hand painting or gold embroidery.
"We're also talking to one very famous Italian fashion brand at the moment about a collaboration - to make bags to go with kimonos." The hope is that Japan's kimono industry might be saved if its products could one day be worn by the world's supermodels. (The Daily Telegraph)