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.
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.
Omi-jofu is a hemp fabric made in Echigawa, Echi, Shiga Prefecture. The clean waters of the Echigawa River, the high humidity and the success of the Omi merchants led to the development of fabric manufacturing here in the Kamakura period.
In the Edo period, the cloth market grew under the patronage of the Hikone clan. Since then, cloth-dyeing techniques have evolved greatly. Later, a unique and sophisticated designed 'Omi' cloth was woven. The name 'jofu' (direct translation = 'upper cloth') was used because, during the Edo period, the cloth crafted in this fashion was used by the nobility.
The characteristic feature of Omi-jofu is that, after the dyeing of threads, it uses a typical method called 'shibotsuke' to dwindle the threads. Another imporant feature of hemp-cloth is that it absorbs moisture easily and is cooling to the wearer.
To conclude, it could be said that Omi-jofu is a traditional fabric that has evolved over time along with the spirit of the craftsmen.
Miyako-jofu is a very elaborate, smooth and strong hemp fabric featuring a splashed design, and is one of Okinawa's traditional crafts.
400 years ago, the king of Ryukyu honored a man from the island of Miyako-jima who had averted a disaster at sea. The king rewarded him with the rank of monk at his court. The man's wife was so pleased that she wove a heartfelt cloth to present to the king as a token of her thanks.
This story is said to be the beginning of the production of Miyako-jofu fabric. Miyako-jofu is a fabric that uses a form of flax known as 'choma' in its weave. It is produced in Hirara, Shimoji-cho and elsewhere, and was designated a traditional craft by the government in 1975.
Yomitanzan Hana-Ori is a unique flower-patterned textile, woven in the village of Yomitan in Okinawa.
Around the 14th and 15th centuries, Yomitan actively traded with China at Nagahama bay. Textiles were also introduced at this time, and later Hana-Ori began to be woven in Yomitan.
It is said that, apart from the people of Yomitan, ordinary citizens were not allowed to wear Hana-Ori, since it was a textile reserved for royalty.
The lovely and detailed flower patterns of Hana-Ori are accentuated by the colored thread. There are more than 30 patterns of the Kasuri type that reflect the tastes of Okinawa. Handkerchiefs woven in Tebana styles were considered special. They used to be called the handkerchiefs of prayer, or of love. These handkerchiefs were made to be presented as a gift to someone special. They were woven as a prayer for the safety of the family, or for a loved one.
Yomitanzan Hana-Ori is a beautiful and a lovely textile that expresses the heart of the weaver.
Ryukyu Kasuri is an ikat cloth woven in the town of Haebaru in Okinawa. It is also the collective term for any ikat made in Okinawa.
Ryukyu Kasuri is said to date back to the 14th and 15th centuries. It developed from South-East Asian ikat but its designs feature unique motifs based on Okinawan nature and fauna.
Silk is the main thread used for Ryukyu Kasuri, and is dyed with both natural and chemical dyes. It is mainly produced as a roll of cloth. Hanging wall cloths for the summer season are also made.
To make ikat, warp and weft threads are dyed and woven by hand in ordered patterns. Before weaving, the threads are mounted on a frame, tied in selected areas, then dyed. The threads are then dried and loosened, and carefully woven on a wooden loom to form the pattern.
The simple prints and the geometrical patterns of Ryukyu Kasuri create an exotic atmosphere.
Shuri-ori is one of the foremost textiles of Okinawa, woven in a variety of styles from figured textiles to kasuri-ikat.
Shuri-ori adopted the kasuri-ikat techniques from the south, and the figured textile techniques from China. Women of the nobility and the warrior class wore it to show rank. Shuri, where the government of the Ryukyu Kingdom was situated, was an appropriate place for the center of politics and culture.
In Shuri, many varieties of dyed fabrics were developed using elegant and sophisticated colors and patterns. This development was intimately linked with overseas trade. Weaving techniques and materials from abroad showed unique texture, such as shuri hana-ori, routon-ori, hanakura-ori and shuri-kasuri.
Shuri-ori is colored with vegetable dyes. It uses Ryukyu indigo, croton and fukugi. It is an elegant textile dyed in many colors, and worn by the warrior class of Shuri
Yaeyama minsa is a fabric made on the Yaeyama Islands in Okinawa Prefecture. This fabric often features a design of alternating five-and-four square 'kasuri' (scratched) patterns on indigo-dyed material. The centipede-like lines are highly individual.
The origin of this fabric dates back to before the 17th century, and the Okinawan word 'minsa' derives from the words 'sar' ('sash') and 'min' ('cotton'). The alternating five-and-four kasuri design is said to mean 'wish you will be with me for eternity'. ('Eternity' in Japanese is 'itsu-no-yo': 'itsu' sounds like the word for 'five' and 'yo' sounds like the word for 'four'.) This symbolised the weaving woman's feelings for her lover.
Yaeyama minsa is woven from cotton thread dyed with natural plant dyes in a southern manner. Sashes, neckties and bags are woven.
The dyed color is usually indigo and the contrast between white and dark blue is vivid and beautiful.