Beyond the Blossoms: One Company’s Mission to Preserve Tradition

Each spring, the National Cherry Blossom Festival celebrates the Japanese gift to the United States of more than 3,000 cherry trees. People from around the world come to Washington to see the unforgettable blooms. Interestingly, visitors leave with not only a memory of these flowering trees, but also with a budding appreciation for Japanese culture.

Paul MacLardy is the owner of Arise Bazaar in Clinton, Maryland, one of the largest Japanese textile emporiums in the nation. Arise also has a large selection of Japanese ceramics and antiques, but MacLardy’s textiles are what set him apart. With upwards of 8,000 pieces – traditional Japanese kimonos, fireman’s coats, obis, workers jackets and Happi coats – he is a leading collector of Japanese textiles.

On Saturday, April 11, he will be displaying a portion of his collection at Sakura Matsuri.

Sakura Matsuri (which means Cherry Blossom Festival) is Washington’s annual Japanese street festival, the largest one-day celebration of Japanese culture in the U.S. Vendors and performers from all over the world fill nearly a mile of downtown D.C., sharing their love for Japanese custom and history.

Arise Bazaar will have a large, three-booth set-up with about 800 kimonos and textiles, along with Japanese ceramics, furniture and small gifts – all of which are for sale. There will also be three people present to do tying demonstrations and help attendees dress in a traditional kimono ensemble. The team takes pride in educating people about the many variations and details that go into these dressing ceremonies. With the large range of kimonos available, MacLardy has something for everyone, and his price points are accessible as well. Most kimonos cost between $40 and $100, but he also has a number of vintage kimonos, some of which are 19th-century collector’s pieces that can cost up to $5,000.

For MacLardy, the buying and selling of Japanese textiles is a passion that goes beyond business; it’s a mission to preserve a legacy.

In 2001, MacLardy published his book, “Kimono: Vanishing Tradition.” In it, he acknowledges that the art of making kimonos by hand has been slowly disappearing. The master kimono makers were reaching the end of their lives without passing on their skills. Young people who might take up the craft were uninterested. Furthermore, over the 20 years that MacLardy had been visiting Japan, he noticed that people weren’t wearing kimonos nearly as often.

“Ironically, since we’ve written that book, that’s all changed,” he said. “When we started the company, people weren’t wearing kimono traditionally. Most people were buying long kimono or fabric to hang on a wall. Now, more and more people are buying kimonos to wear.” His forthcoming, second book, “Kimono: Symbols and Motifs,” will highlight this change in attitude.

The older generations have long understood the sophistication of Japanese textiles, but they are increasingly fascinating to younger people. MacLardy travels across the nation attending Japanese festivals and anime conventions, where he’s found a resurgence of interest in traditional Japanese textiles among young people. He’s also found that they are being reinvented in a modern way through experimental, untraditional styling. The kimono’s influence was evident in the 2015 fashion shows by designers such as Tracy Reese, Thakoon, Duro Olowu and Tibi, suggesting a heightened worldwide appreciation for these age-old garments.

For Paul and his team at Arise Bazaar, preserving the ceremonial dress of Japan is more important than ever in a changing 21st-century landscape. Stop by the Arise Bazaar booths at Sakura Matsuri on April 11 to take home a symbol of Japanese culture. The event, which takes place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. will close the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

Arise Bazaar is open Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment — 7169 Old Alexandria Ferry Road., Clinton, Md. — 301-806-0337.

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