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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Here's another about Bunka....

Just click on the link for more...

Turning out the vanguard of Japan design
By Kaori Shoji International Herald TribuneTUESDAY, AUGUST 2, 2005
TOKYO Describing Bunka Fashion College as a mere place for learning would be to do it a disservice. It's a manufacturing corporation of Japanese design and designers. Consider the immense, 21-story glass-and-concrete structure where the classes are held; it could be the setting for some cyberpunk, futuristic movie penned by William Gibson.
There are no school gates, just a huge sliding-glass entrance manned by uniformed security guards. They open with precise rapidity and then clash shut behind you, whereupon you find yourself in a soundproof lobby with marble floors. An asphalt courtyard looks out onto skyscrapers and construction sites. A couple of meters away stretches one of Tokyo's busiest, noisiest intersections, encased on all sides by mammoth department stores.
Bunka has more than 70 branch schools across Japan; has exchange programs with Central Saint Martins in London and Parsons in New York, among others; runs a fashion publishing house that releases the magazines High Fashion and So-En, and sponsors the nation's biggest and most competitive design contests. To say that Bunka has the last word on Japanese mode is an understatement; an acceptance letter to the world beyond those sliding doors means the student is already halfway atop a conveyor belt leading to a slot in the nation's ¥30 billion, or $267 million, fashion industry. And that she is about to join the ranks of an impressive list of alumni that include Yohji Yamamoto, Hiroko Koshino, Tokio Kumagai, Hiroaki Ohya, Keita Maruyama and Limi Yamamoto.
"This place really trains you for work and life," says Yuko Onodera, a third-year student of the prestigious Apparel Design Department. "My parents wanted me to attend an arts university, but I convinced them that it would be a waste of time. Bunka really prepares you for what's to come later, after graduation. And I don't have to worry that much about getting employment. Companies trust the Bunka label."
In Japanese, Bunka Fashion College is called "Bunka Fukuso Gakuin," meaning: "The School to Learn About Cultural Clothing." Back when its founder, Isaburo Namiki, established the school in 1919, women's Western-style clothing was considered the height of "culture," available to only the affluent, enlightened and modernized few. But Namiki quickly saw that skirts were bound to replace the traditional (and feudal) kimono, and set out to create an army of designers and seamstresses to do the job. Hordes of women applied, and they later opened Japan's first dressmaker shops.
For women of that period, a degree from Bunka immediately translated into financial independence and professional status - two things that were extremely difficult for Japanese women to acquire in those times. The number of students quadrupled during the first decade of its inception. By 1961, Bunka had become the metaphor for emerging Japanese mode, confident enough to invite Christian Dior and Pierre Cardin to tour the premises.
At first, the applicants knocking on Bunka's doors were mostly young women eager for professional training. Then gradually, men began to attend.
Yohji Yamamoto remembers that when he first attended Bunka in the mid-1960s, the ratio was 100 boys to more than 10,000 young women. "Girls were everywhere on campus; they hemmed in from all sides!" he recalls. "It was a dream come true for me, but seeing them at such close quarters dispelled any illusions I had about women. I think this disappointment was the starting point of my design career."
Still, it was the years at Bunka that inspired Yamamoto to bring beauty and functionality to women's clothing. The son of a single mother/dressmaker, he has made it his mission to serve working women, many of whom toiled alongside him in the classrooms at Bunka. "I don't know any woman who doesn't work," he says. "Between my mother and Bunka, they completely formulated my outlook on women."
Today, the women only slightly outnumber the men, but the word is that they will usually outlast them to make it to graduation. Bunka is famed for its strict curriculum and incredible workload - the deadlines are piled on mercilessly. Miyuki Sakano of the Apparel Design Department says that lack of sleep is chronic and inevitable. "It was tough at first, but I quickly got used to it."
Her friends agree that the faster they get used to working marathon hours, the better, since they're all aware that Japanese designers rarely get to rest.
Hiroaki Ohya, an alumus and designer who works with Issey Miyake in addition to running his own brand Oh!Ya, says, "The main thing everyone notices about a Bunka grad is that she or he can work long, long hours without turning a hair. This always floors people in Europe and the States - they think it's just a facet of the workaholic Japanese psyche. But it's not just that. Clothing design in this country is so competitive, if you stop to take a breath someone will railroad right over you."
Masafumi Kanda, a first-year student, says he feels a double-edged pressure: "enforced creativity, and the fear that they we may not be up to the rigors of this enforcement."
Of course, industriousness has its own reward. And as the clothing critic Kiyoshi Matsuzaki says, "There's an aura of glamour at Bunka that you don't get anywhere else."
Besides, Bunka is famed for its corporate networking abilities - the school campaigns tirelessly to get its students into the best slots of the most prestigious apparel companies, and some of the Bunka in-house shows and exhibitions showcase work that's almost on par with the Tokyo collections.
"There's an incredible sense of liberation here," says Yuko Onodera. "Students are encouraged to be crazy, to think differently, to appeal and express themselves as much as they can. That kind of thing just doesn't happen often in Japanese schools."

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