I was really looking forward to 2020 because it is the year of the staging of the huge kimono show at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I had known about it from the first idea stage a few years ago, been involved a little bit in the planning, and had written a section for the accompanying book. And, because for the longest time I have wanted to see a great kimono show in the U.K., this was a dream come true for me.
I had also persuaded several small kimono brands that were involved to travel to London, and put on a workshop event, in conjunction with the Royal College of arts and a small exhibition in a commercial gallery in London. In addition, I was booked to teach a five-day workshop at the London School of Fashion and was going to be involved in getting some footage down with a friend, for his film. I had quite a lot on my plate.
When NHK approached me and said that they wanted me to work on a program with them, my first reaction was “No, thank you.” I did not know the program because I don’t have a TV, I have worked on several other programs and I know the score. Up at dawn, start shooting at 8, get a coffee at some point if you are lucky, maybe even a meal, finish at 8 P.M. or sometime later, and then stare uselessly at a huge pile of kimono that need to be folded and restored to their homes. Working in Japanese TV is not for the faint of heart.
So they asked if they could come and talk, and I said yes, but I don’t know the program etc. And then I said no, because I can’t do the dates, I’m going to London. I thought that would be the end of the story. But they started staring at their calendars on their phones and jiggling things and making me nervous. So, then they said they thought that they could follow me to London, and I was in “You’ve got to be kidding me mode”.
They sent me a couple of DVD’s of their program ー Sekai ha Hoshi mono ni Afureteiru, (literally The World is full of Desirable Items) ー a ridiculously long name. And I found it was a beautiful program following buyers to different countries to search for specific goods to bring back and sell in Japan. English tea cups, Moroccan woven table mats, whatever it was. And it was detailed and fascinating.
However, it was the opposite of what I was doing. I was taking kimono and showing it abroad, because I know that the world is also full of people who love desirable textiles and clothing. That, I was told, was the point. My program was to be the “look at what an amazing item was here all the time” kind of a program.
Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk, the V&A
So London arrived, or I arrived in London, and spent the first week in an air bnb room that I was sure was converted from a wartime bunker. It was mostly underground, with no windows and almost no internet connection. While I love my filmmaking friend, I am sure we had never been quite that close before. But such is the price of cheap accommodation in the center of London.
With permission to shoot at the press opening at the Victoria and Albert, we arrived early and were absolutely thrilled to get our first glimpses of the show. I became an accidental icon for the gathered press photographers as I was wearing a taisho period kimono and meisen haori.
The opening party was a gorgeous affair and it was so exciting to see the various designers tear through the Edo, Meiji and Taisho periods, to find their own works in the exhibition. “We’ve seen it since we were kids”, I was told. I know that they did enjoy the exhibition properly later. Of course, the contemporary room with its exploration of kimono in fashion, fashion in kimono and kimono in film and media was certainly the most interesting part for them.
The two universities that I was working with both refused permission to NHK to film, which was understandable because of members of the public being there. But it was disappointing as my workshops were an important part of what I did in London. I am sure that the British public interacting and learning about kimono in depth would be fascinating for the Japanese viewers.
We filmed at the commercial gallery and at various outlets selling used kimono in London. It was a lot of fun talking to the shops’ owners and hearing them talk about kimono.
I also explored parts of London that I hadn’t been to before, and I am in love with just walking around the city. Shopping, asking questions and talking about kimono coordination with the team was actually incredibly fun. It was especially exciting as we were talking about kimono while shopping in London, not Japan.
But there was more. They loved the kimono story so much that they had decided that this was going to go for two weeks, not one. And the second week would be filmed back in Japan.
COVID Inches InーChanging Many Plans
All through the last days in London when I was doing my workshop, COVID was lurking. It began to get a bit worrying by the end of my stay in Mid-March.
The plan was to return to Japan and go straight to Kyotango, where I am a crepe-silk ambassador, to film the making of kimono cloth. I was ready, the team was ready, but I was instructed by my workplace to remain home for 14 days on my return.
With the work waiting to be completed, 14 days felt very long, but finally they passed, and the crew’s location bus was outside my house. Masked and socially distanced we drove the ten hours to Kyotango. We pretty much passed the time in silence, each in their own little world.
Having been delayed so much, our time in the Tango Peninsula was short. Because of COVID restrictions, everyone had to be masked. But filming went ahead.
It was a delight to be able to talk to my friends in the workshops there, and introduce them for the camera. One of my jobs as an ambassador for the weaving association there is to put Tango on the map. Few Japanese are aware of the fact that the majority of kimono silk for dyed kimono is actually woven in this little countryside area far from the center of Kyoto. I believed that this program would put Tango on the map.
After the Tango trip we still had a few cuts to finish up in Tokyo ー and of course the studio section, where I would go on live with the hosts, jazz singer, Juju-san and the young, handsome actor, Miura Haruma. Of course, I was really excited about that day.
Losses from COVID
However, once we returned to Tokyo NHK’s restrictions became tighter and we couldn’t complete the filming. I began to think that it had all been in vain and the show would not be finished. Eventually the first wave began to calm down and we were able to complete the remaining footage.
But then the really big blow struck. I was never going to get to meet Miura Haruna. The passing of anyone is sad, but of someone so young, and by their own hand, is so much sadder. There were so many “Whys?” No one had any answers. The whole team was devastated and no one had any information.
I felt that it was all over, and anyway it seemed inconsequential in the face of the struggles that some popular Japanese personalities have to go through, just to survive. I was numb about the whole thing. Perhaps the series would end, as he was thought to be a pretty hard act to follow.
It was more than two whole months before there was any movement at all. I had almost given up hope.
The Miracle of Picking Up and Starting Again
After more than two months there was finally a message. The new host would be Suzuki Ryohei, a slightly older actor, also very popular and apparently a good friend of Haruma.
I was tentatively excited. There had been so many ups and downs already, and covid had not disappeared. I was just hoping that the studio recording would not be canceled.
The studio was amazing. All the flowers on the set are real and smell as wonderful. I had never seen so many lights and so many staff whizzing around. It was a lot of fun to sit with Juju-san and Suzuki-san and watch the footage we had taken. We were supposed to talk about it as we watched, but we were all pretty much drawn into it, and were quite silent.
We had fun with the hat I bought in London and some of my accessories, and Juju-san showed some of her precious hair accessories, too. There was a lot of laughter. Clearly the new pairing looked like it would work. The chemistry seemed good. They both had fun guessing the names of the dyes, and with the pulling of silk from cocoons to make it into thread. Recording in the studio was a really exciting experience.
Not having a TV, my family and I went to my friend’s place to watch the programs. I don’t particularly like watching myself on TV. I am never satisfied with the way I look, but I guess that is a fairly normal reaction. I was also unaware of how messy my kimono appeared to me. However, we all enjoyed the first program, and even as it aired, my Instagram followers began to grow in number.
And Then the Instagram Blue Badge Scam
I am not a very active instagrammer. I am not really of the generation, and I am of the mind-set that twice a week is fine. However, as every instagrammer knows, it takes several years to build up a good following on your page, and a lot of hard work goes into preparing, shooting and selecting the right photographs for a page.
A lot of love and dedication goes into people’s instagrams. While I can use Instagram on a very basic level, I am not at savvy with it, and I strongly recommend that non-techies, like myself, make sure that they have a good supply of computer savvy millennials to help them figure everything out. By the time I have worked out how to do something, they update it all and I have to struggle to learn it again.
Of course, if you don’t understand it well, you are vulnerable to devious people who hack Instagram accounts. With two popular NHK programs, there was a lot of movement on my account. And some nefarious individuals noticed it.
I was getting a lot of direct messages. Many instagrammers get a lot of work engagements this way, so I usually open them. I had one that had an Instagram logo, and when I clicked on it, it said that I had reached the requirements for a blue badge, (a verified account), so please fill out the details on the form, and then I would receive it. I absolutely believed that the message came from Instagram and I dutifully filled out the details including password of the account.
It did not cross my mind that it was illogical that Instagram would communicate with me this way, or ask for my details, when they presumably have them. Apparently, it should have. I woke up the next morning with no Instagram account. I had been hacked and well and truly taken over.
As my millennials told me, “You just opened the door and let them take it”.
Reporting the hacking to Instagram is not easy. There is a glitch on the system that means that the keyboard on some phones covers the send button. Over the next 24 hours my friends watched the photographs disappear, and some strange ones appear, the name disappear and then return, and many followers were unfollowing the account.
This is what is apparently known as a blue badge scam. If you use the search function and type in blue badge, you can see that there are many such outfits using various versions of instagram’s own logo. They are all offering to get you a coveted blue badge.
Please understand that they are not Instagram.
Overcoming the Trauma of Being Hacked
I can only describe the feelings I had during that time as trauma. It may not be logical, but I felt that those guys could be at my door. I could hardly pick up my phone, as I was shaking when we were trying to perform the recovery.
Thanks to my team, I was eventually able to recover the account, and they taught me that 2 step authentication is an absolute necessity. We changed passwords on accounts in my computer, and secured them with a phone number.
I had never wanted to secure them with a phone number because in my head, telling someone your phone number does not keep it safe. In the pre-connected days, what you did to stay safe was never tell anyone your phone number. The whole experience made me feel completely incompetent, and a bit of an idiot.
I was told that everyone knows about blue badge scams, but actually no one that I have spoken to does know about it. So I am telling you now. If you are an instagrammer, please make sure you protect yourself.
The purpose of stealing Instagram accounts is to empty them and then sell the empty account with 30 thousand followers to a brand that can fill it with photographs of their goods. It saves a lot of years of work building it up.
Apparently, this is a lucrative business. I am humbled, and also amazed and thankful to all the people around me who helped in the rescue. Instagram is not as fun as before, and it is a little bit scary, but I’m still there.
This year has taught me many lessons in the good and the bad sides of the media in general and also in social media. As corona continues, there are likely to be more and more people working with their computers, and hence more and more cyber incidents. Stay safe!
Find other columns by author Sheila Cliffe, here.
Author: Sheila Cliffe