Kaiko no Mori, located in Uzumasa, Kyoto, is officially called Konoshimanimasu-amateru-mitama Shrine. It is also affectionately known as Konoshima Shrine by the local people.
It is believed that this shrine was built in the year 604. Kaiko no Mori, which means “silkworm shrine”, was thought by Hatashi, an expatriate from the Korean Peninsula, to be the location of the deity of sericulture, or silkworm raising and also the deity of the textile industry. The shrine was burned in a number of wars and the current structure was most likely restored after the Meiji period.
In the west of the shrine is a spring-water pond called Mototadasu Pond. In the middle of this pond stands a torii called Mihashira Torii. Torii are large gates, erected at the entrance to Shinto Shrines or other sacred places. The Mihashira torii has an unusual design and it is considered one of the “Kyoto Three Torii”. It has three columns and it looks triangle-shaped from above. In the middle is a holly seat where the spirit of the deity sits. The origin of the torii is not known, but the current torii is thought to have been built in 1831.
Kaiko no Mori still has many followers especially from the silk-reeling industry. It is also worshiped as the location of the guardian deity of the town.
Chichibu Meisen is the silk fabric made from Chichibu silk that has been manufactured since ancient time in Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture.
The origin of Chichibu Meisen dates back as early as the Emperor Sujin era (BC149~BC29) when Chichibuhiko-no-mikoto taught the technology of sericulture and the weaving to local people.
The fabric uses yarns taken from silkworm cocoons called Tama-mayu as well as Kuzu-mayu, debris of the cocoons. This thick yarn is woven horizontally, which makes the fabric durable. Sericulturists used to make the fabric for their own working clothes.
Chichibu Meisen uses a simple weave form called Hiraori (literally, flat weave) which has no difference between front and reverse side, thus, allowing people to turn the clothes inside-out to renovate the dress when the color wears out. With its durability and utility, the fabric became popular among common people and developed further.
Samurai warriors also valued the fabric and helped its development. Over the decades, Chichibu Meisen was improved and the technology advanced while it kept its tradition. It reached its period of peak popularity during Meiji era and the beginning of Showa era.
Chichibu Meisen, which won the hearts of many people in Meiji and Taisho era with its rich design style, still draws attention and is woven with great care while preserving its long history.
Kiryu textile is the traditional handicraft handed down in Kiryu City, Gunma Prefecture. It is said that Kiryu textiles dates back to around A.D. 800, when Princess Shirataki, who had served at the Imperial Court, came to Kiryu after she married into the Yamada family and taught the art of sericulture and weaving to the people of the village. Kiryu textiles became well known throughout the country after Nitta Yoshisada raised an army at the end of the Kamakura period (1192-1333) and Tokugawa Ieyasu used a white silk flag produced in Kiryu at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600.
In the middle of the 18th century, they invited two weavers of Nishijin to learn the most innovative techniques of the time. Then in the first half of the 19th century with patronage from the Shogunate, it became possible to produce high quality textiles. Being called “Nishijin in the west, Kiryu in the east,” the town of Kiryu was flourished as the production center of high quality textiles, which became one of the key industries of the country throughout the periods from Meiji to early Showa.
With unpopularity of kimono, the textile industry in Kiryu is also in a predicament now, but Kiryu is making its way to develop new products by introducing the latest technology.
Sericulture had been actively practiced in Isesaki since the ancient times and it is said that the making of silk textile in this area started in the periods before Christ. However, it was not until the latter half of the 17th century that a production center for ikat, or popularly called “meisen,” became established. In the Edo period (1603-1868), closely-woven cloth was called “me-sen (a thousand eyes),” from which the word “meisen” was created.
When it came onto the market in Tokyo in the Meiji period (1868-1912), it gained the popularity and the name of Isezaki Meisen was known throughout Japan. Then in the Showa period (1926-1989), too, Isezaki Meisen industry reached its second peak. At the present time, although a burst of popularity has calmed down, several hundred craftsmen continue making this traditional textile.
Isezaki ikat is characterized by its dyeing techniques, which include “itajime-gasuri (board dyeing),” “kukuri-gasuri (tying the printed part before being dyed)” and “nasen dyeing (employing pattern paper and dyeing with brushes and spatulas).” After being dyed, the ikat threads are woven into a wide variety of patterns ranging from the very simple to those of a complex nature. In whichever case, Isezaki ikat all makes the best use of the qualities of silk. These handmade ikat cloths are loved by people even today because they are strong but reasonable in price.
A year was divided into 24 solar terms on the traditional Japanese calendar. Shoman is the 8th solar term. It usually begins around May 21st, when the Sun reaches the celestial longitude of 60°. Everything on the Earth grow rapidly to its mature size. Fields of wheat ripen into greenish yellow, silkworms eat mulberry leaves greedily, and safflowers come into bloom. In the Koyomi Binran (the Handbook of Japanese Calendar) published in the Edo period, it is written that everything prospers and grass, trees and branches come into leaf.
It is the season when the air is filled with summer vivacity. In haiku, the word “geshi” is the season word for summer.
At Inari Taish Shrine in Saku City, Nagano Prefecture, the annual festival is held to pray for growth of silkworms, rich harvest and business success. It has been held since the Taisho period (1912-1926) and is one of the largest festivals in the Kanto region. Together with the plant fair, more than 500 street stalls line along the front approach.
Ushikubi-tsumugi is a silk fabric made in the Ushikubi area of Shiramine in Hakusan city, Ishikawa prefecture. Ushikubi-tsumugi uses only pure river-bed water from the Tetori River and rare silkworm cocoons called “Tama-Mayu” in its process. The silkworm cocoons are first boiled down, spun by hand, and then elaborately weaved. All aspects of the process are done by hand and the fabric is famous for its strength among other silks. The origins of Ushikubi-tsumugidate back to the Heian period when the technique was first introduced to the locals by the wife of a Minamoto clan warrior named Oobatake. Oobatake became a fugitive after the Minamoto clan were defeated during Heiji no ran, or the Heiji Rebellion. Ushikubi-tsumugi was highly regarded for its durability and much sought after during the Edo period. From the middle of the Meiji period to the beginning of the Showa period, silk production steadily increased, however with Japan facing economic depression and eventually war, production soon rapidly declined and the authentic silk industry disappeared all together for a time. After the war, silkworm breeding was resumed and the craft of Ushikubi-tsumugi was successfully revived. Today, Ushikubi-tsumugi is appreciated as one of the highest quality silk fabrics in the world.
Tsukui braid is a traditional handicraft manufactured in Tsukui-cho in Sagamihara City, Kanagawa Pref. Braid was first introduced to Japan with mantras and beadrolls when Buddhism came from China in 538. In 1882, when a braiding machine was imported from Germany, braid-making was established as an industry. In Tsukui, sericultural industry had been actively done as a by-work of the people living in the mountain area since old times, and raw silk and fabrics were manufactured as home industry. In 1921, Tokitaro Sato established a braiding factory in Tokyo and some people from Tsukui worked there. Later they went back to their hometown and started their own business of braid making. The technique to make elegant braid in Tsukui is highly evaluated all over the world and Tsukui braid is exported to many countries at the present. It is a practical craft that is used for various articles for everyday use.
Ainokura Village is situated between Toyama and Gifu prefectures. It is believed that fleeing Heike warriors settled here in the past. Back then, there were about 30 private houses and about 80 people lived here.
Gassho houses, featuring steep, high-thatched roofs, are typical of areas with very heavy snowfall, such as Shirakawa-Go and Gokayama. The space under the vast roofs is ideal for raising silkworks. When rice was not being grown or harvested, the people traditionally used the top floor of these houses for sericulture, smoke-curing, or paper production as further means to make a living.
Most of today's houses date back to the Edo and Meiji periods. The earliest one was built in the 17th century. The beech trees covering the mountainsides, the ricefields and stone walls around the village make a magnificent scene.
Gokayama was designated a National Cultural Asset in 1994 and in 1995 was chosen as a World Heritage Site.