Kumihimo, a Japanese style of braiding, has been around for about 1,500 years. It's thought that it began as a simple form of finger-loop braiding that grew more complex and intricate as the years went by and tools like the marudai and takadai were developed. Not terribly much is known about the early development of kumihimo because the braids and braiding techniques were originally considered insignificant compared to other Japanese arts. That way of thinking, fortunately, eventually changed as the braids became more complex and played important roles in Japanese society.
During the Nara period, for example, cords were braided using specific colors and then worn to product against bad luck and banish evil ghosts. Later, as Buddhism became much more prevalant in Japan, monks would do kumihimo as a form of meditation. Kumihimo cords were also a very improtant part of samurai attire. It was used to lace up their lamellar armor and would be wrapped around sword hilts to provide a better grip.
On a somewhat morbid note, kumihimo cords were used during traditional tea ceremonies to help prevent anyone from poisoning the tea. How? Well, the cords would be tied in decorative knots around the tea storage container. These knots were so elaborate that it would be obvious if anyone untied them or otherwise tampered with the tea.
Today Kumihimo braids are still an important part of traditional Japanese attire, as they are used as obijime (a decorative sash that keeps the obi from slipping in traditional kimono dress). Fortunately for weavers and braiding enthusiasts everywhere the different kumihimo braiding styles made their way west during the 20th century as a number of sensei travelled to Europe and the U.S. to teach these traditional techniques and introduce a new, eager audience, to the fun and beauty of kumihimo.