This is the last article of this popular series. We asked Mr. Seki to tell us more about maintenance regarding the kote.
The kote is the most easily damaged among the kendo gear. As mentioned, the deer leather used for the inside of the kote is vulnerable to sunlight so it must be taken care of. Especially the white deer leather is vulnerable, and if you leave it out in the sun during a season of strong sunlight, even for about 90 minutes, it will get stretched and become unusable.
The head of the kote has two main materials. Some use dark blue leather, and some use material called “so-orisashi”. Some kote use dark-blue leather for about half of the kote, especially around the finger tips. This type is called “do”.
Different kendo players have different preferences, but if you use kote with dark blue leather that does not have much deer fur stuffed inside, drying it in the sun causes the leather to increase in salinity, and as the oil is removed the leather becomes very dry. In the end the leather will break.
Using dark blue leather on thin material is recipe for disaster. The so-orisashi type can be washed many times and is more flexible.
The Michi brand of kote sold at Tozando is the so-orisashi type, and is a long-selling item. The so-orisashi kote has newspaper stuck with glue to its back. When the player sweats, the glue starts to dissolve and the material hardens. Drying that in the sun causes it to be so hard and stiff. Some players wash the brand new kote in order to remove the glue.
Those players are specialists in gear maintenance. If you wash it once, then hit it with a hammer or something to soften the material, it makes it very easy to use and it lasts longer too.
There have been many kote brought to Seki for repair. Some have the inner leather torn hopelessly, some have lost the color of the material, and some seem hardly worth the effort in repairing for reuse. We imagine that these days many kenshi have a use-and-dispose attitude, but there are some who are willing to pay 10,000 yen or more to repair a kote that they are attached to in order to continue using it.
Of course that is because the kote sold at Tozando is excellent in quality. Seki tells us: “These kinds of kote that have been used for a long time have a special flavor to them after losing its color, and that is part of a player’s attachment to it too. The deer fur inside is all lost, but that makes it soft and feels like using bare hands, and it’s very easy to use. Even when it is worn and torn so much, even though it costs about 10,000 yen, it can still be repaired and used. For us who sell gear it is paramount that we try and make such items.”
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