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.
Taue Odori (the rice planting dance) handed down in the Shinjo area in Kesennuma City, Miyagi Prefecture, is a folk performing art that is designated as a prefecture’s intangible folk cultural property.
It is said that this dance dates back to the Tenpo era (1830-1843), when the area was attacked by a great famine. The villagers dedicated the dance to Taira Hachiman Shrine in hope for a good harvest. The dance performed by the Edo-period farmers who were in an abyss of despair tells the modern people the importance of overcoming difficulty with a light-hearted manner.
In the old times, the dance was performed on Koshogatsu (little New Year), which refers to the three-day period in the middle of January that includes the 15th day. Today, they are performed at various festivals and on New Year’s Day on the lunar calendar, when the dancing team visit every house in the area and perform it.
The dance is performed by two “Yajuro” dancers and five “Yassaka” dancers. The Yajuro dancers wearing naga-eboshi caps (long cloth caps) and jinbaori jackets gives the words of prologue, shaking the bamboo stick with gold rings called “Shurosuri.” After that, the Yassaka dancers wearing hachimaki hair bands, long jackets and apron-like cloth with small bells on it join the dance and jump around, chanting “Yando Ya Hi!” and beating handy drums altogether.
Yakunin Taue Odori (Yakunin Rice Planting Dance) is open to the public at the summer festival of Johgi Nyorai Saihoji Temple in Okura, Aoba-ku, Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, on July 6 on the lunar calendar every year. It is designated as a prefecture’s folk cultural property as a precious traditional folk performing art that has been handed down in a community. It is said that a mountain practitioner named Genso from Kyoto taught this dance to the people in this area in 1833.
The word “yakunin” used for the name of this dance indicates “to play a part.” In the Yakunin Taue Odori dance, the part called Yajuro is supposed to be a half-ogre man, and the head of Yajuro plays a part of the god of rice paddy. He wears a hikitate eboshi cap (a cloth cap pulled upright) with the sun and moon marks and a junbaori jacket with the kanji charcters representing Emperor Jinmu (Japan’s first emperor) on the back and join the rice planting dance danced by women dancers called “Saotome,” exchanging the words of compliment and responses with each other.
The words uttered by Yajuro and the song and movements of Saotome dancers are typical to this rice planting dance, which can’t be seen in any other similar dance in the country.
Narumi-juku was the 40th of the 53 post stations of the Tokaido Road, which connected Edo (present-day Tokyo) and Kyoto in the Edo period (1603-1868). It was located in current Narumi-cho, Midori-ku, Nagoya City in Aichi Prefecture. Narumi-juku thrived on tie-dyed cotton fabric that was produced in Arimatsu located between Narumi-juku and the next post station, Chiryu-juku. Many shops selling tie-dyed cotton products stood along the road, which was depicted in Ando Hiroshige’s “The Fifty-three Post Stations of the Tokaido Road.”
In Seiganji Temple in the town stands the oldest stone monument in memory of the master poet, Matsuo Basho. The old battle field of Okehazama, where Oda Nobunaga established his reputation in the Warring States period (1493-1573), is located just past this town.
Having traveled about 350 km from Edo, a traveler in tie-dyed haori coat might have set out for the 13 km walk to the next Miya-juku post station, thinking of the remains of the warriors’ dreams as Basho did. This must have been a divine favor that only a traveler can enjoy.
Kuresaka Pass located in the border of Kuni Village and Nakanojo Town in Gunma Prefecture is a pass with an altitude of 1,086 m. It became famous when a wondering poet, Bokusui Wakayama, wrote a poem of this pass in 1922. In 1957, the statue of Bokusui wearing a travel cloak and the stone monument inscribed with his poem were erected by the hand of the people interested. They are the symbol of the pass today.
Prefectural Road 55, which runs through the pass in east to west direction, is a part of the Romantic Road of Japan. The wonderful view from the observatory will take your breath away. On October 20 every year, Bokusui Festival is held. The pass is crowded with Bokusui fans on this day.
Kaga-nui is a traditional embroidery specific to the Kaga area of Ishikawa prefecture. It was during the Muromachi period that what would eventually become know as the kaga-nui technique was first introduced to the locals, along with Buddhism, from Kyoto. The embroidery technique was initially used for decorating a priest’s stole and the golden cloth that was laid in front of tablets of the deceased. The technique was further developed and, in the Edo period, the embroidery was used to decorate accessories and ceremonial garments used during battles for the lords of a feudal clan. Later it was also used to decorate women’s kimono. Successive rulers of the Kaga feudal clan valued arts and crafts and fiercely protected Kaga-nui. Along with two other famous local specialties; Kaga gold gilding and Kaga Yuuzen, Kaga-nui was perfected so as to become totally unique. Kaga-nui utilizes gold, silver and silk threads so skillfully that embroidered drawings and patterns are raised from the cloth in a three-dimensional shape. This humble yet graceful embroidery, born from delicate and detailed techniques, continues to be used to this day to decorate accessories, kimono and obi. Its elaborate method of hand stitching remains the same and so naturally, each work is different and unique.
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.
Jinbei is a traditional Japanese clothing worn mostly by men during the summer. Jinbei sets consist of a top and matching shorts. The top falls to the hips and has straight sleeves. It ties closed with laces at the nack and both sides. Jinbei is usually made from hemp or cotton. In the old days only the top was worn like the present Haori jacket, so that the Jinbei is the abbriviation of Jinbei-baori. In one story it is said that Jinbei originates in sleeveless Jin-baori (over-vest) worn by samurai. Or in another story has it that a man named Jinbei invented this clothing. Jinbei is referred to in Tanizaki’s novel “Hansode Monogatari,” which is set in the town of Osaka, in which it is called “Hansode.” Recently products for women are being sold. Compared with Yukata, it does not get loose, so Jinbei is often favored for Bon dancing.