Brits over the age of 40 and die-hard fans of vintage TV sitcoms may remember Trigger, the dim road-sweeper in the comedy Only Fools and Horses. Trigger’s boast was that during his long career as a road-sweeper he had only used one broom, although it had had 17 new heads and nine new handles. I have a pair of kote with a not dissimilar history; I have had them for over 20 years. They were originally a present from Shinji Kawato, a bogu maker friend in Osaka. To be fair both to Trigger and to Kawato-san, I have used the original futon consistently since then, although the atama or hand parts have been replaced at least 5 times and the futon have been washed and re-dyed.
The futon are now showing distinct signs of wear but are still holding up. They were recently reinforced so there should be some more mileage left in them. I have not been to Osaka for a while and I have not had the chance to take them to Mr Kawato for their regular atama replacement, so the palms have been patched in numerous places. This in itself is not a problem but now the tsutsu (wrist joint) , is starting to fall apart. Nevertheless I am still reluctant to end my 20 year relationship with them.
I have tried all sorts of kote over the years, including the Hasegawa type with changeable hand coverings. All kudos to Hasegawa for developing something new, but they remind me of gardening gloves.
Why do I love my old kote? Let me count the ways. The futon are of original Japanese hand stitched 1bu construction made from traditional compressed cotton and antique wool felt. They still do a great job in protecting me from over-enthusiastic beginner’s hits. They keep the correct tube shape while allowing me to get them on and off quickly. The hands (and their predecessors) are big and comfy and I feel completely relaxed in them. The downside is that they now look distinctly scruffy.
I have other newer and smarter kote but none that I enjoy wearing as much. My love for these relics may well be reason for their impending demise. I regularly think about spreading the wear, but it is these old favourites that invariably get packed for keiko.
I plan to get some more good kote this year, and have seen lots of desirable products in the bogu booths at taikai and on the internet. Nevertheless I still think that the old models will find their way back to Mr Kawato for some new hands and some TLC.