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.
Tsumugi are silk textiles woven by hand using thread collected from the floss of the cocoons.
The floss is made from debris of the cocoons and spun by hand into thread. Because the thread is called “tetsumugi ito” or “ tsumugi ito”, the textile made from the thread became to be known as tsumugi.
Tsumugi is characterized by its unique texture and dull gloss coming from subtle variations of the tetsumugi threads. It is extremely durable and has been used for everyday clothes and working clothes since ancient times.
Thus, tsumugi, although it is silk, was not used for formal wear. However, during Edo period, many stylish, fashionable people liked tsumugi’s color palate and texture with its muted gloss despite it being silk. They found it expressed an austere elegance and considered it a stylish fabric that expressed their good taste nonchalantly. They generally wore it as outer clothing and dressing up in tsumugi became popular.
Though tsumugi is durable, because the newly woven cloth is hard and quite uncomfortable to wear, it is said that wealthy merchants had their clerks wear them first to break them in.
It could be fun to try a newly woven hard tsumugi and act cool like a rakugo comedian.
Bingata is an Okinawan traditional paste resist dyeing technique. It was created in the 16th century as a dying process for the clothing of the royalty and the nobles of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Because of this, most of the dye-shops at the time were located around Shuri Castle and protected by the government. Although the word “bin-gata” literally means “red patterns” in Japanese, Bingata is generally multi-colored cloth dyed with various patterned stencil papers.
There are actually two methods of doing Bingata dyeing; “stencil dying” and “cylinder drawing.” In stencil dyeing, the boundaries of the patterns are set with the application of rice-paste resist through a stencil. In cylinder drawing, patterns are hand-drawn through what looks to be a pastry tube.
The bright colors produced by these careful hand processes fascinated the royalty and the nobility of the time. Especially the yellow color created by fukugi (Garcinia subelliptica) was allowed to be used only for the loyal family.
Today, Bingata resist dyed cloth is used not only for clothing but also for many other items such as bags and tapestries, all of which feature an exotic atmosphere of a southern land. Together with Yuzen dyeing, it is one of Japan’s representing dyeing techniques now.
Tapestry is a form of textile art done all over the world since the ancient times. There area a lot of works with high histiric and artistic values. It is said that the oldest tapestry was made by the Coptic in Egypt in about 1580 BC. The techniques of tapestry weaving were brought to Japan with the introduction of Buddhism in the 6th century. The pieces of works brought in these eras are preserved at Horyuji Temple and Shosoin (the Imperial Repository). In the later years, decorative tapestries were woven at many Buddhist temples such as Ninnaji Temple and Honaganji Temple, which was developed into the techniques to make the cloth for obi-belts at Nishijin in Kyoto.
In general, tapestry weaving is weft-faced weaving, in which a pattern drawing is placed under the hidden warp thread and the patterns are woven out by plucking the warp thread with weft thread passed through the shuttle.
In the most elaborate technique of Tsume-Tsuzure (literally meaning “nail weaving”), the cloth is woven by plucking the warp with fingernails, from which it is called “the brocade woven by nails.” It is such sophisticated skills and patience that have created ever fascinating beauty for as long as 3,000 years.
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.
Ainu bark-fiber is a woven cloth used for the traditional garments and costumes of the Ainu people of Hokkaido. These garments are some of the most representative and familiar forms of clothing worn by the Ainu, and are known as 'atoshi' in Ainu dialect.
Bark fiber used in this fabric is taken from the inner bark of the Manchurian elm, then woven on a loom. As cotton was more highly valued by the Ainu then, garments were considered to be more valuable when cotton was woven into cloth along with bark fiber.
Among the Ainu, the Hokkaido Ainu were the principal users of this fabric. It was worn for daily use, and was mass exported to the main island of Japan in the late 18th century due to its excellent durability and detailed weaving. Today, this fabric is still woven all over Hokkaido as a traditional handicraft.
Born in 1904, Yasujiro Yamaguchi has been involved in the Nishijin textile industry in Kyoto for almost a century since he graduated from an elementary school. He is specialized in the technique called “Karaori (float-weave brocades),” which requires especially high skills and experience among many types of Nishijin weavings.
Since 1950, when he was asked by Kongo Iwao, 25th head of the Kongo school of Noh to recreate Noh costumes that were made 300 years ago, he has reproduced and woven various kinds of cloth for Noh costumes. He has also donated his works to a number of museums in the world. It is well-known that he presented the U.S. General Douglas MacArthur with the cloth for Noh costume. Yamaguchi also reproduced a “Ten-mizuhiki (an upper tapestry)” of a float for Gion Festival in Kyoto.
Yamaguchi was selected as a “Master Craftsman of the Age” in 1982, and received Order of the Sacred Treasure, Silver Rays in 1983. Together with his elder brother Itaro, the centenarian brothers have been actively contributing to the further development of the Nishijin weavings. Their spirit of inquiry gives us the courage to live.
Noto-jofu refers to the high-quality hemp fabric from the Noto region of Ishikawa Prefecture. It is an Ishikawa Intangible Cultural Asset.
Hakui City and Rokusei Town in the Noto Peninsula are often associated with hemp. According to legend, the daughter of Emperor Sujin spun wild hemp into thread and taught women in the area to weave. There are some sources that say that the hemp thread was dedicated at Todaiji-temple in Nara.
Until the early days of the Edo period, local high-quality hemp leaves were used to make what is called Omi-jofu. During the Edo Period, the production of original jofu gained momentum. People from Noto invited craftsmen from Omi to learn their famed dyeing techniques and the two combined to create a new type of jofu. Jofu is used to refer to hemp fabric of the highest quality.
In the first year of the Bunsei period (1818), this new type of fabric was given a special name, Noto. Since then weaving technique has improved, and starting from the end of the Meiji Period, Noto-Jofu has become the term used to refer to this type of cloth.
Noto-jofu is often likened to a cicada's wing for its lightness. It is a clever way to stay cool during the summer.