The Shuri textile is produced using traditional dyeing and weaving techniques developed over five hundred years in the Ryukyu Dynasty capital of Shuri and its surrounding areas. It had made a unique development while incorporating influences of China and Southeastern Asian cultures. With its historical and cultural values highly esteemed, it is the representative fabric of Okinawa today.
During the period of Ryukyu Kingdom, these fabrics were mainly worn by the nobility and warrior classes and the main weavers were wives and daughters of warriors, to whom the weaving fabrics were a part of the jobs that they were proud of.
For Ryukyu textiles, Ryukyu indigo and other plant dyes are used and weaving is done by handlooms called “Jihata” and “Takahata” (tall handloom) using a throwing shuttle. There are seven Shuri textile techniques handed down to the present; Shuri Hanaori, Roton Ori, Hanakura Ori, Muru-totchiri, Tejima, Nihgashii Basho-fu and Hanaori Tekin. For dyeing techniques handed down in one locality, the Shuri fabrics have some unique features in their variety and sophisticated quality.
Toshiki Matsui is a craftsman in Kyo Yuzen, a traditional handicraft handed down in Kyoto. His pen name is Shozui. He was born in Kyoto in 1940. He specializes in painting including base drawing, coloring on the part of the cloth which has been outlined with the resist (itome-nori) and musen-Yuzen, in which designs are painted directly onto the fabric with a brush. He was designated as a Traditional Craftsman by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry in 1988.
It is said that the yuzen technique of painting dye directly onto cloth was established by Miyazaki Yuzensai, a popular fan painter living in Kyoto toward the end of the 17th century. Yuzen’s modern designs as well as its vast range of dyeing, pasting, and other techniques such as embroidery and leafing have brought this industry to perfection. Different from Kaga Yuzen, brushes are used in painting in Kyo Yuzen.
Mr. Matsui uses as many as 3,000 brushes, which were all handmade by himself and used for different purposes. He applies the dyes on cloth, using his brushes free-flowingly like his own fingers. His excellent techniques and colorful designs are now used not only for kimono but also for a variety of products such as dresses and framed pictures.
Kurume ikat is textile fabric woven in Kurume City, Fukuoka Pref. This fabric dates back to some time around 1800, when a girl named Inoue Den in the castle town in Arima Province was inspired by white dots found on her clothing. As she was interested in weaving so much, she studied how they appeared and discovered the weaving technique of splashed patterns, which she named “Kasuri (ikat).” The ikat became famous all over the county for its beauty and durability and ikat production formed a firm foundation in the southern part of Chikugo area with Kurume as its center. Kurume ikat is a yarn-dyed fabric. It is woven with threads that were tied before dyeing so that the design has a real depth. As it is an unpretentious fabric, it is put to use for many articles such as kimono, small accessories, and interior decorations. In 1957, Kurume ikat was designated as Important Intangible Cultural Property.
Nagoya Black Dyeing is the art used to make formal kimono. The black dyed cloth is designated as a Traditional Craft Product by Aichi Pref. The history of this art is dated back to the early Edo period (the 17th century), when Owari clan started to control dyeing industry for making clan banners and labarums. Later the dyeing of a black cloth with family crests for clan members and commoners began at the end of the Edo period (the 19th century). In order to make the outline of reversed-out family crest clear on black dyed cloth, a paper stencil is used. The mon-ate amitsuke technique, which is peculiar to Nagoya, is used. To create rich black color, the cloth is immersed in the dyestuff with low concentration for 30-40 minutes. The main products today are kimono cloth, haori, and mourning kimono. Kimono with a family crest is usually worn on formal occasions. Especially, mourning kimono is still worn by most people as the nation’s traditional clothing.
Nagoya yuzen Dyed cloth is a nationally designated Traditional Craft Product handed down in Nagoya City, Aichi Pref. In the late 18th century, when the culture of Owari clan was flourishing and cultural exchange with other cities was actively pursued, the techniques of yuzen dyeing was introduced to this area by craftsmen from Kyoto. Since Nagoya had been the producing center of silk fabric, the techniques were easily soaked up. Compared with elaborate Kyoto yuzen, Nagoya yuzen dyeing is characterized by its quiet tones, which is thought to reflect the steady and frugal character of the local people. The number of colors used is kept to a minimum, or one color is graded to produce patterns in conformity with the local taste for the sober. There are two types of yuzen. One is a freehand painting technique and the other uses stencils, each of which has its own production process. The main product is cloth for making kimono.
Arimatsu Narumi Shibori is a tie-dyed kimono cloth handed down in Arimatsu-machi, Aichi Pref. It is nationally designated as Traditional Craft Product. The making of tie-dyed cloth in this town is dated back to 1608, when the founder of this technique, Shokuro Takeda and his fellow workmen established the methods. The techniques were put under protection of Owari clan, which controlled this region in those days. Arimatsu Narumi Shibori as a specialty product of the clan was used for making tenugui (Japanese towel) and Yukata (summer kimono) and became favored by people including travelers going along the Tokaido Road. The success of the business was depicted in Hokusai’s Ukiyoe. The process of tie-dyeing technique is to dye after tying parts of the fabric so that they will not absorb dye, creating various patterns. The knotted parts shrink and give three-dimensional effect to the fabric. In this craft, a technique itself creates designs, which are not swayed by the fashion. The techniques are used for various purposes including silk fabric, cotton fabric, and even materials for interior decorations these days.
Ise-katagami are traditional handmade dyeing stencils that developed around Shirako in Suzuka, Mie Prefecture. These stencils were used in dyeing yuzen, yukata, and for komon (family crest) designs and patterns on kimono fabrics.
There are four traditional stencil techniques: 'sui-bori', 'tsuki-bori', 'shima-bori', and 'dougu-bori'. These techniques involve varying processes for the cutting of the fine, complex-patterned stencils from thick paper that is made by gluing several sheets of Japanese washi paper together.
The history of these stencils goes back a long way, although the origins are not clear. All agree, however, that ise-katagami already existed by the late Muromachi period (around 570). With the start of the Edo period, and the promotion of dyeing as an independent industry under the protection of the Tokugawa Kishuu clan, katagami salesmen were free to do business all over the country. This is how the ise-katagami from Shirako came to be well-known throughout the country.
Ise stencils were designated by the Agency of Cultural Affairs as an Intangible Cultural Treasure in 1952. They were also designated as a Traditional Handicraft Equipment by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry in 1983.
Kumejima tsumugi is a form of traditional weaving on Kumejima island, which is where it is said to have originated. Legend has it that it was introduced by the mythical figure 'Douno-Hiya', who had learned sericulture in China in the late 15th century.
The development of this technique began on the island, and was later introduced to the main islands of Japan, where it was transmitted as Oshima tsumugi, Kurume tsumugi and Yuuki tsumugi.
Tsumugi is a strong silk fabric, woven from silk. Kumejima tsumugi is made using silk floss from the cocoon of a silkworm, which is then spun into threads. The threads are dyed with natural plant and earth dyes and carefully woven by hand.
One particular characteristic of this cloth is that the whole process is carried out by one person.
It was designated as a traditional craft in 1975, and an intangible asset of Okinawa Prefecture in 1977.