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We are proud to introduce Ryukyu Kasuri weaving – a treasure in Haebaru Town
post : 2017.04.13 15:00
There are many traditional art forms in Okinawa, such as bingata dyeing, Tsuboya pottery, Ryukyu lacquer and so on. The Japanese Government has designated 14 traditional culturally significant crafts in Okinawa, placing Okinawa in third place behind Kyoto and Niigata (as of June, 2015).
Ryukyu Kasuri is a traditional weaving technique that Haebaru Town – next to Naha City -- is proud of.
Kasuri exists not only in Japan, but also in India, Thailand, Laos, The Philippines and Cambodia. It was invented in 3 or 4 BCE in India. The technique came to Ryukyu from East Asia in around the 15th century. Kurume Kasuri (Fukuoka), Iyo Kasuri (Ehime) and Bungo Kasuri (Hiroshima) are supposed to be where Ryukyu Kasuri (Okinawa) originated.
The motifs in Ryukyu Kasuri are based on everyday items, plants, animals and more. There are about 600 Varieties.
The pattern shown in the picture is from the pattern book “Miezuchou,” which has been used since Ryukyu Kingdom period up to the present. Craftsmen still use patterns based on this book. Patterns can include midi (water), kumu (clouds), tuiguwaa (little birds), bikkuu (tortoise shell), in-nu-fisaa (dog’s footprints) or toonii (feed box for pigs).
The dyes for Ryukyu Kasuri are mainly from local plants and also some chemical ink. Once the design is decided, craftsmen arrange strings, and then dye them. Knots are made in strategic places and the parts that are tied in this way will not be penetrated by the dyes.
After they are dyed, strings, are starched, untied, stretched and sorted. There are so many processes before weaving can begin. And, of course, everything is painstakingly done by hand.
I found something called the “Kasuri-no-michi tour.” In this tour, which is provided by the Haebaru Town Tourism Association, a guide shows you around Ryukyu Kasuri Studio. You get to see the weaving process and also the handmade weaving machinery.
During the two-hour tour, you are shown around a street called Kasuri-no-michi near Ryukyu Kasuri Hall.
Twelve trees that grow around Ijungaa Park are used for ink dyes. Bark from fukugi trees, fruit of gardenias, chinaberry leaves and bark from Bishop wood tree (Bischofia javanica) are used to make beautiful gradations for yellow and brown.
This area is for starching strings. The strings have to be hung taughtly. After starching, the dye process starts.
Oshiro Weaving Studio uses weaving techniques passed down from the late Koshiro Oshiro. You can observe the weaving process for chakushaku (a whole cloth adult’s kimono, 40cm in width, 12m 30cm~13m in length), belts, shirts or tapestries made by the craftspeople in the studio.
The studio resounded with weaving sounds. I never get tired of watching the weaving process. I asked one woman how long it takes to complete one chakushaku? “It depends,” she said. “But it usually takes about one hour to weave 50 centimeters.”
Oshiro Weaving Studio builds their own looms out of yellow or Japanese cedar. Only two places in Japan do this. It takes a month to make one loom.
The tour guide showed us around the area where you can’t go by yourself. As she showed and explained the tools, techniques and the processes of weaving, I became more and more interested in Ryukyu Kasuri.
Handmade dyeing and weaving cloth can last for a long time. The same techniques have been passed from generation to generation from the Ryukyu Kingdom era to the present. I am impressed with their ability to add new chapters to their history with the same techniques.
“Seeing is believing” is really true. I wouldn’t have known anything about Ryukyu Kasuri if I didn’t see what I saw at the studio today. If you are interested in taking the tour, you can check the schedule at Haebaru Town Tourism Association’s official website. A map of Kasuri-no-Mich is available at Ryukyu Kasuri Hall so you can try strolling around the area on your own.
Neckties, pen cases, slippers or bags made with Ryukyu Kasuri are available for purchase at Ryukyu Kasuri Hall. You will love the textures and the color of these handmade items. No two are exactly the same.
Please hold them in your hand and find your favorite pattern and color.
The patterns of Ryukyu Kasuri are not simple but not too garish either – and they will stay beautiful for many years. Come and see the treasures of Haebaru Town during your Okinawa trip.
For more information about Ryukyu Kasuri business cooperative association
Tour Info (Haebaru Town tourism association)
*Tours are held 5-6 times per year
Okinawa CLIP photo writer: Sachiko