Tanabata is a star festival held on 7th July and is one of Japan's five seasonal festivals.
The origin of the festival is supposed to be a Chinese festival called 'Kitsukoden', when people prayed for their advance in needlework and performing arts. Another legend says that the 7th day of the 7th month is the only day of the year when Vega (the weaver girl star) and Altair (the cowherd boy star) are allowed to meet each other. There is also a Japanese legend called Tanabatatsume about a weaver for a god. These legends mixed together to form Tanabata, which then became an important event in the imperial court.
In the Edo period, Tanabata spread to the commoners and took on its present form. Today, people write wishes on oblong cards and decorate bamboo branches. Even after Japan adopted the Western calendar, in many districts Tanabata is still held on the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar.
Today there are many Tanabata festivals. Sendai Tanabata held in Miyagi Prefecture and Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata held in Kanagawa Prefecture are very popular as the biggest Tanabata festivals in the country.
Yoshio Koda was born in 1929. He has been designated as a Living National Treasure for his work in Seigo Sendaihira handwoven silk.
Seigo Sendaihira is a costly thick silk cloth from Sendai. It is made from high-quality raw silk threads that have been kneaded with straw ash, dyed with natural dyes, and which are then woven by hand.
As a boy, Yoshio Koda was apprenticed to his father, Eisuke, (who was designated as a Human National Treasure in 1956), and learned the traditional skill of Seigo Sendaihira.
After his father died in 1965, Yoshio succeeded to the craft. He has been engaged not only in preserving the tradition but in making his original style. Now, he is one of the best weavers in Japan.
Kisaburo Ogawa was born in November 30, 1936. He is recognized as the holder of the important intangible cultural heritage of kenjyo-hakata-ori and was designated a living national treasure in 2003. Kisaburo Ogawa is also a guest professor of fine art at Kyushu Sangyo University.
Kenjyo-hakata-ori or Hakata weaving dates back 700 years to the Kamakura period. It gets its name because it was a gift bestowed annually by the Kurota clan to the government in the Edo period.
The weaving's trait is the thick-layered fabric and its silky touch, and was mainly used to weave sashes. Although this traditional craft is woven on a loom, the industry faces a dilemma in that there is no successor. The Hakata Weaving Association is making products other than sashes, to keep and develop the tradition. For example, they are making bags and wallets to attract younger people. Mr Ogawa, being a member of the association, works energetically as a panel member in symposiums and gives speeches.
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.
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.