When it comes to talking about kimono, the history and variations, however, often seem to elude us: we tend to only talk about their appearance at first glance or about the rareness. For example, so few people (including Japanese people!) understand the difference between “Honba Oshima Tsumugi” and “Murayama Oshima Tsumugi”, both of which have very intricate and beautiful design and sleek texture. Well, this time, let’s put a spotlight on “Murayama Oshima Tsumugi”, famous and exquisite cloth of kimono.
What is “Oshima Tsumugi”?
As you have noticed, both of the cloth mentioned above has the same letters, “Oshima Tsumugi”, which indicates the cloth named “Oshima Tsumugi” has two kinds of that. In order to talk about Murayama one, we have to look at Honba one first, actually.
“Oshima” means “big island” in Japanese in general and “Amami Oshima” in particular here. Amami Oshima is located in Kyusyu district in Japan and the blue sea that almost melts into the sky is so beautiful. It is said that the island is the closest island to the heaven, and the people there are so kind. Many visitors repeat all the same phrase: “It was like I was in the seventh. I will visit there again for sure.”
But I digress. Splendid materials to knit wearing were found in this island; so making clothes was one of their lifeworks and the clothes were their casual dress. However, in 1720, a local government in that time ordered them not to wear the native clothes, for the officials of the government can exclusively wear them. This was the start of the export of “Oshima Tsumugi” to the main island of Japan.
After landing on the main island, “Oshima Tsumugi” became popular for the beauty and high quality, and in 1870, many people in the main island of Japan also came to wear and enjoy the unique design, although it was considered as luxury then. Around in 1920, the people in the main island started produce their cloth, which is very similar to “Oshima Tsumugi”—this is what we call “Murayama Oshima Tsumugi” for the resemblance and the name of the place where the material is obtained. By the way, “Honba” means “real”, “authentic” or “bona fide”; does it mean that “Murayama Oshima Tsumugi” is a fake? Of course not. No way.
Own story of Murayama Oshima Tsumugi
In contrast to the “luxuriness” of Honba Oshima Tsumugi, Murayama Oshima Tsumugi flourished as inexpensive cloth for casual dress, which is somehow ironically the original purpose of Honba Oshima Tsumugi. In 1948, an association for Murayama Oshima Tsumugi was founded and it strived to be recognized as a brand. During Japan’s economic boom after WW2, the demand for Murayama Oshima Tsumugi as inexpensive casual dress was pretty high; however, in the process, much more inexpensive cloth made in Korea for kimono, which is so-called Korean Oshima, emerged and was easily replaced with Murayama Oshima Tsumugi. In 1980, the population of the people who manufactured Murayama Oshima Tsumugi dropped terribly and the many wholesalers ceased handling it.
After the shock, some people got together to restore and preserve the beauty of Murayama Oshima Tsumugi. As their familiar dress, Murayama Oshima Tsumugi developed in a different way from Honba Oshima Tsumugi. One of the characteristics of Murayama Oshima Tsumugi is the variation of unique patterns, which was possible as a result of the combination of many other techniques in the main island of Japan, and such an own character of the cloth attracted many people enough to keep the culture to live even today. Now Murayama Oshima Tsumugi is alive as beautiful and precious cloth for kimono that represents Japanese historical culture; yes, Murayama Oshima Tsumugi eventually followed all the same way of its parent, Honba Oshima Tsumugi. Now, Murayama Oshima Tsumugi is not a fake or mimic of Honba Oshima Tsumugi: it is another Oshima Tsumugi.
The difference between the two Oshima Tsumugi
As mentioned above, Murayama Oshima Tsumugi and Honba Oshima Tsumugi are completely different cloth, but the appearances of the two Oshima Tsumugi resemble each other so close that it is difficult to distinguish the two; however, if you look into them much more close enough, you’ll find the difference: the seam. The seam of Murayama Oshima Tsumugi looks straight, whereas that of Honba Oshima Tsumugi does the shape of T or the sign of plus, “+”.
Meanwhile, the cloth of Honba Oshima Tsumugi has the certificate tag, whose motif is a globe or flag (which depends on the place of production of the cloth). When you buy cloth that looks like some kind of Oshima Tsumugi, check the tag.
In addition to these differences, the cloth of Honba Oshima Tsumugi is not used for making an “ensemble” of kimono for woman. It means, if you see an ensemble of some parts of kimono for women, which looks Oshima Tsumugi, it must be Murayama Oshima Tsumugi. However, it may be possible to order such kimono of Honba Oshima Tsumugi now.
The current Murayama Oshima Tsumugi
Murayama Oshima Tsumugi started as a popular edition of Honba Oshima Tsumugi, but it has developed its own way of evolving since then. After the clothes of Japanese people became westernized and the preciousness of kimono began to be rediscovered, Murayama Oshima Tsumugi is getting as precious. If you love kimono, it may be a good time to be particular about the cloth of your kimono.
Aren’t you interested in kimono that much and you feel yourself out of the picture? If so, you should visit some skillful tailors; they may tailor your suits or coats with Oshima Tsumugi! The durability of kimono is of course due to its cloth; so the coat and suit made of Oshima Tsumugi must last forever. The patterns on the surface must attract many people around you as well.
Now, the two Oshima Tsumugi are alive as one of the most prestigious cloth of Japanese kimono. When you order your kimono or suit, you should ask: “Excuse me, is Oshima Tsumugi available today?