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Getting to Know the Handicrafts Created on Yonaguni Island at the Westernmost Point of Japan
post : 2021.01.19 07:00
Yonaguni Island, the island where the sun sets the latest in Japan. Yonaguni Ori is a textile produced since long ago on this westernmost island and is a traditional craft that represents this unique island.
From dyeing threads to calculating patterns, warping, and weaving, Yonaguni Ori is created generally by just one person, and is a craft that shows the brilliance of the delicate techniques of the women who weave them. On this island near the border with Taiwan, I wonder, what were the thoughts and feelings of the women who continued to work on this handicraft.
“The light of the waves are the warp threads, the indigo of the skies are the weft threads, with the leisure of passing time woven into it, then, finished with the gentle kindness of people.” This was explained to me by a staff from the Yonaguni Town Traditional Textile Cooperative.
Dyeing and weaving of Yonaguni is mentioned in written records that date back 500 years and also state that the Ryukyuan dynasty repressed the uprising on Ishigaki Island that is known as the “Oyake Akahachi no Ran” in 1500. Following that, in 1522, the royal dynasty took control over Yonaguni. Later, the Ryukyuan government imposed strict taxes on the people of Yonaguni as such in other regions, and the Yonaguni Ori was one of the main taxes in kind. The materials used for the textile is mainly cotton and flax. During and after the war when thread was hard to find, people wove their cloth by taking apart fishing nets for its threads.
With such historical backgrounds, Yonaguni Ori has also gone through changes in the weaving technique itself over the course of time. With bright hues of yellow that remind us of the cheerfulness of Okinawa, and the geometric patterns that align with regularity, the colors and patterns advanced in various forms in Ryukyu Kingdom where dyeing and weaving developed with sophistication as the royal government actively embraced various textile techniques and materials from overseas.
As the kingdom engaged in trade with various countries and regions in the Pacific, like Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and others, the art of textiles advanced independently with the introduction of new techniques and combining them with the conventional methods of that time.
Among them, the techniques that saw the most development and that are handed down to date are the Kasuri (splash patterns) and Mon Ori (intricate, variegated patterns). A well-known weave that represents these techniques is the Hana-Ori of Yonaguni, a traditional textile handed down the generations of weavers on the island, and which were so highly regarded that they were presented to the royal government in Shuri as tributes in the age of the Ryukyu Kingdom. The raised patterns on the fabrics are created using the Uki Ori technique and are so delicately beautiful with the colors brought out by the bright tropical sun, and have been highly acclaimed, “you can almost see the figures of women working on the loom when you look through the fabric against the sun.”
Other well-known textiles of Yonaguni are the elegantly charming Hana Ori, and the Dutati with its simple but unique geometric patterns. These fabrics are made into costumes for harvest festivals and other traditional events in the region. They’re also popular as collared shirts worn by many in the business scene today.
In addition, Yonaguni’s unique Shidadi (Tenugui hand towels) are woven with colored threads dyed with plants such as Fukugi and Sharinbai, as well as mud-dyed threads, and have a distinctly exotic feel.
The Yonaguni Kagan’nubu is a narrow Obi or sash that features a pattern at its center called the Miutu Kasuri, which represents a married couple, and is said to be a special textile that is woven to express the love shared between two people.
The Yonaguni Town Traditional Crafts Center was built in 1979 with the purpose of reviving the Yonaguni-Ori textiles that ceased to be woven after the war. The Center offers tours to observe the production process of the traditional textile from dyeing to finish, and visitors can also purchase the works there, too.
Yonaguni Ori is a special textile woven by the nature and people of this island. If you get a chance, I hope you’ll take the opportunity to get to know both.
Yonaguni Town Traditional Crafts Center
Address: 175-2 Yonaguni, Yonaguni Town, Yaeyama, Okinawa
Hours: Monday to Friday from 8:30 to 17:30, Saturday from 8;:30 to 17:00
Okinawa CLIP photo writer, Nobuya Fukuda