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Beautiful Crafts of Ryukyu for the Coming Generations. Kotohogi no Kaori, the Kake-Kou Hanging Incense and Yui, the Scent Sachet
post : 2018.11.23 06:00
In the paper one day, was an article, “2017 Naha Exhibition of Products; Winner of the Mayor’s Award!” The article introduced the products that won this honorable recognition among the products developed in Naha within the last three years. In the lineup of attractive products and creations, what piqued my interest was the Kotohogi no Kaori, and the Yui. The hanging incense and the scented sachet were made of Shrui Ori textiles and contained an original blend of incense, and they were beautifully bound with a flower bow. When I thought about it, I had never seen anything like it, and was very thrilled. I love kimono and incense, so these items were definitely up my alley and I’d never come across ‘made in Ryukyu’ items such as these.
-Yui (front) and Kotohogi no Kaori scented sachets. Original blend of Ryukyu incense in a pouch made of Shuri Ori textile, beautifully tied with a flower bow. All handmade.
I immediately went to meet with the two ladies who created the hanging incense and sachets. They are Hiroko Yoshihama, a traditional craftswoman specializing in Shuri Ori textiles, and Yukiko Taniguchi, a Japanese incense master.
Ms. Taniguchi explains, “The name Kotohogi comes from the meaning of offering congratulations and prayers for good fortune. We hope the hanging incense will be used for auspicious occasions like the New Year and other celebrations. The Yui sachet comes from the meaning of “ties”, and of cooperation. I made the scent with the inspiration of bringing people together and helping each other, and with hopes of peace. Some couples have purchased these as gifts for their guests attending their weddings.”
The Shuri Ori textile expert, Ms. Yoshihama adds, “The main aspect of both of these creations is the incense. The creation was born from Ms. Taniguchi’s idea. I weave the Shuri Ori on her requests, and she blends the incense, sews, and makes the flower bows.”
-Ms. Yukiko Taniguchi (left) and Ms. Hiroko Yoshihama. The Kotohogi no Kaori and Yui are co-created by these ladies who are experts in incense and Shuri Ori textiles, utilizing their knowledge to pass on the traditions of Ryukyu.
“Blended in the incense sachets is Yamakunibu, a type of scent that ladies of the court in the era of the Ryukyu Dynasty enjoyed, tucked away in their chest of drawers. There’s a Chinese scent that is often used in incense called Reiryoko. This and Yamakunibu are both from the family Primulaceae. These two scents are the same, and I wanted to use Okinawa’s Yamakunibu to make a scent that was uniquely Okinawan,” says Ms. Taniguchi.
Ms. Yoshihama smiles and says, “Long ago, my grandmother used to burn Yamakunibu to keep insects away. She also used to keep the branch and leaves in her dresser drawers, too. So from that memory, my impression of the Yamakunibu was that it was some sort of an insect repellent. I was surprised that it was blended to make incense.”
-Dried Yamakunibu grown in Okinawa. Presently, there are very few local growers of this plant.
“The sachets were made with Nishijin Ori textiles before, but I always thought it would be ideal to deliver the scents of Okinawa in a sachet made with Okinawa’s textiles. I had the opportunity to meet Ms. Yoshihama through a friend, and this made it possible to combine the incense with the Shuri Ori textile which has a history that dates back to the era of the Ryukyu Dynasty,” explained Ms. Taniguchi.
The scent bag and hanging incense sachets of Shuri Ori textile with an original blend of Okinawan incense, is a Ryukyuan item that you would think were already available in the market. Since the salt sachets in Okinawa are very common and believed to ward off bad spirits, perhaps people didn’t think of carrying around a sachet of incense. These lovely sachets were born from the meeting of these two ladies.
Shuri Ori is a general term for various weaving designs and splash patterns that flourished in Shuri from the 14th and 15th centuries, during the period of the Ryukyu Kingdom. There are different textile types in Shuri Ori that includes the most prestigious textile in Okinawa, textiles worn by the samurai class and higher, textiles worn by male government officials, and various patterns like the Shuri Kasuri splash pattern and Minsa. Ms. Yoshihama had always been a fan of kimono and that was what brought her on to this path some 20 years ago. “Shuri Ori is a highly technical art, and so I’m still learning. I keep pursuing the techniques of the weavers before me,” Ms. Yoshihama says passionately.
-Traditional craftswoman, Ms. Hiroko Yoshihama. She is immerses herself daily in the highly technical art of Shuri Ori weaving.
“From the designing to dyeing and weaving, every step of the Shuri Ori textile is done alone. Sometimes, I get color requests from Ms. Taniguchi to weave a white fabric or other colors. Because I do every step starting from the designing, sometimes it’s overwhelming to think of colors and patterns depending on what the textile will be used for. At the same time though, I enjoy thinking about what pattern would look nice,” says Ms. Yoshihama.
I had imagined that in making a kimono, the work was divided according to expertise. So I was surprised to learn that Shuri Ori was made from the first steps to the finish by a single weaver. I think I can write a whole series on the steps that Ms. Yoshihama makes in weaving the Shuri Ori textiles.
To enhance the beauty of the refined beauty of the Shuri Ori fabric that embraces the lovely hanging incense and the sachet, are the braided flower ties ordered from Kyoto.
Ms. Taniguchi explains, “The Hana Musubi, or the flower ties, are the elegant traditional bows that express the natural beauty of the four seasons. Its history is very long and the people of ancient times used these ties to mark their ownership of things, and also to mark and relay messages. They are said to cast away evil and are presented as offerings to temples and shrines. It is believed that these ties also cast away evil when kept indoors, and when worn or carried, to bring happiness and good fortune.”
-The Karacho Musubi bow on the hanging incense. The bow is likened to a butterfly with its wings spread, symbolizing a good match, and the bottom is that of a Kano bow. This is often used for talismans and symbolizes strong prayers for protection.
In both types of the incense sachets created by the ladies are double bows called Kano Musubi, which is tied with strong hopes for protection. This type of bow is used for personal charms and for decorative bows for celebrations. On the hanging incense are other varieties of bows, all of which are believed to bring good fortune.
Ms. Tanigushi adds, “There are various colors and patterns in Shuri Ori textiles and I choose the colors and bows according to the fabric. I enjoy thinking up the combination of Shuri Ori textiles and the color and type of bow.” The traditional bows believed to cast away bad omens and to bring good fortune, are truly lovely.
-Ms. Yukiko Taniguchi, an incense master, does the sewing and attaching of the bows on the Shuri Ori textiles. She talked about the positive impact of scent on the human brain which is believed to prevent dementia.
“Over time, the scent of the incense grows mild. The scent of the two types of sachets are a little different, but their base scents are the same and are grown in Okinawa. I blend about ten varieties of scents from Okinawa to create a harmonized scent,” Ms. Taniguchi explains. Both scents were calming, like the nostalgic scent of a grandmother’s house or that of a temple or shrine.
-With various scents made in Okinawa as the base, Ms. Taniguchi blends an original Ryukyuan incense.
“Ingredients to my incense are from Okinawa, like Motobu Town and Kunigami Village, but for some things, like the Yamakunibu, there are less and less growers; these are plants that were once deeply rooted in the lives of the people in Okinawa, but they are slowly being lost,” says Ms. Taniguchi, who visits Yanbaru and other places to speak about the blessings and charm of Okinawa’s nature that nurture the ingredients for incense. Her source of inspiration was her passion to introduce to the world the scents of Okinawa, but at the same time, her drive to do something about the traditions and culture of Okinawa that may become forever lost.
Ms. Taniguchi and Ms. Yoshihama both say, “From the Shuri Ori textile, sewing, blending of incense, bows, everything is all done by hand. We want to take our time to create good things.”
Each of these things are an amazing fusion of culture, tradition, and craft art, and each are so deep that I felt I could write a whole book for each step. The Ryukyuan creations by the two ladies are truly deep connected to ancient traditions, are definitely something we must pass on to the future generations.
The hanging incense and the scent sachet adds noble beauty in our lives, and how wonderful to enjoy their scents and also have them bring us good fortune.
-The hanging sachet has a traditional tatami weave likened to that of Zen, decorated with various types of bows believed to be auspicious. Inside is a blend of incense with a nut that is believed to drive away bad omens.
Kotohogi no Kaori & Yui
Available At: Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum (http://okimu.jp/) & Okinawa Traditional Arts and Craft Center (https://kogeikan.jp/)
Inquiries: Office Yukiko nunubu
Okinawa CLIP photo writer, Mika Asaka