In mid-May, wisteria blooms beautifully over the mountains. Fujifu is a cloth made by weaving fabrics extracted from the vines of those wisterias. In the Tango areas, the weaving skills that developed over 1,200 years are now designated as a traditional handicraft of Kyoto.
The history of fujifu is long. There is a phrase that indicates the presence of fujifu even in the 'Manyoushu' (a collection of Japanese poetry, compiled around the mid-8th century), which mentions 'the fujifu of a salt farm worker, working for the lord'. Also, an anecdote describes how the Emperor Godaigo took a wisteria seedling with him to Okinoshima island, when he was exiled there by the Kamakura Shogunate in 1333 (Genkou 2). The anecdote explains that he loved the wisteria and remembered the imperial capital by dressing in fujifu cloth.
At one time, fujifu was being produced widely across Japan as general apparel. Today, there have been approaches to adapt fujifu for modern lifestyles by making new products, such as 'noren' curtains, tapestries, obi belts and interior accessories.
Kyoto Kakefuda, founded in 1925, is a long-established dyehouse in Shijyo Horikawa, Kyoto. Since its beginning, the store has been known as a custom order specialty store making the silk “furoshiki” wrapping cloth and the “fukusa” wrapping cloth which traditionally has a family crest and is passed from one generation to the next.
Hidetaka Kakefuda, upon succeeding as head of the family business, undertook the design and production of the cotton furoshiki used as a complementary gift for the name-taking ceremony of Nakamura Kanzaburo XVIII, a famous kabuki actor. He was so impressed with the practicality and usefulness of the cotton furoshiki that the following year, he announced his newly designed line of cotton furoshiki with traditional Japanese patterns which is designed off the shelf for more casual use. Aligned with his new line, the store changed its name to Kyoto Kakefuda and created a special logo for the cotton furoshiki, whose design took inspiration from his family crest.
Now that most design and manufacturing is split between different companies, a specialty store that undertakes the whole process of design, pattern making, dyeing, cutting, finishing and retailing under one brand has become rare and treasured. Despite the store's long established history, Kakefuda is also flexible and open to new ideas, and is pioneering a new direction away from the other established stores reluctant to change.
Nara Sarashi is a hand-woven hemp cloth bleached into pure white. It has been favored by people since the ancient times for its cool touch and perspiration-repellency. The craft is designated as a Traditional Craft Product by Nara Pref. Although the origin of Nara Sarashi goes back to the age of Kojiki (the Records of Ancient Matters), it only became widely known in the early Edo period. In the preceding Azuchi-Momoyama period, a master craftsman named Seishiro Kiyosumi had succeeded in improving bleaching technique, which gave this craft a growing popularity. Until then Nara Sarashi had been mainly used for the clothing of monks and priests, but later in the Edo period it began to be used for hakama (a skirt-like pants worn on a formal occasion) or summer kimono for samurai (warriors) and came to be known all over the nation. The Tokugawa Shogunate also favored this cloth and selected it as one of the purveyance supplies for the government. Because of its clean and elegant texture, it has been used for the costumes of traditional performing art including Kyogen. Presently, Nara Sarashi is used for chakin (tea ceremony cloth) as well as for Noren curtains and tablecloths with the patterns designed from the treasures at Shosoin (the Imperial Repository).
A Noren is a split curtain hung in the front of a shop doorway. It was initially used to create shade. Its use evolves with time and later it becomes an icon of the store, symbolizing its business credibility and rights of the store. The history of Noren dates back to the Nara period. Its first use for a store was recorded in the Heian period. In Kamakura period, it became a popular household accessory, and is commonly used in many houses besides stores. It was in the Edo period that design and drawing on a Noren became prevalent and Noren played a bigger role as a symbol of a store. Like what Katana sword was for samurai, Noren became a soul for merchants. At that time, people could recognize the kind of business of a store by a color of Noren. There are some general rules. For example, a white Noren is for a sweet shop, an indigo one is for a Kimono shop and liquor store, and an orange one is for a pharmacy.
The three major teahouse streets in Kanazawa are Higashi, Nishi and Kazue-machi. While Higashi-machi and Nishi-machi were built in the Kaga Domain area, in the third year of the Bunsei period (1820), Kazue-machi was established in the second year of the Meiji period (1869).
Kazue-machi is located to the southwest of the Asano River, between Asanokawa Ohashi Bridge and Naka-no Bridge; Higashi-machi is located to the northeast of Ohashi Bridge; and Nishi-machi to the south.
While Higashi is the most prestigious and the biggest, Kazue is beautifully sited next to the Asano River and is highly valued as 'small Kyoto'. Bars and restaurants secretly display a store curtain or shop sign, making them the place known only to connoisseurs.
On spring nights, cherry blossoms are reflected in the river, creating views beyond description. In fact, Kazue-machi is beautiful in any season.