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Iga Ware

The History of Iga Ware

Iga Ware (伊賀焼) is a pottery from Iga City, Mie Prefecture. Your first impression of Iga Ware might be a little rustic or too plain, compared to other Japanese traditional pottery. However, you will sense and realize the beauty and charm of it throughout getting to know its history and features. It is considered that Iga Ware was started about 1300 years ago. The age was called Nara Period (ca. 701-794) in Japan, and a traditional pottery called Sueki had been baked a lot. In the early stages of Iga Ware, it was baked only for an agriculture use, such as simple pots storing seeds, and gradually Iga Ware was started to use for tiles of temples. It was the beginning of the 17th century when Iga Ware became widely known all over Japan. The 17th century in Japan was the age when chanoyu (the tea ceremony) flourished. Since a lord of Iga region had a thorough knowledge of the tea ceremony, potters started to bake pottery for the tea ceremony at the lord’s behest. This was the perfect chance for Iga Ware to flourish as well. In 1669, however, mining clay from specific mountains holding the crucial clay for Iga Ware got prohibited to prevent it from over mining, and Iga Ware started to decline gradually. In the middle of Edo Period (ca. 1716-1789), potters of Iga Ware acquired glazing skills in Seto region (where Seto Ware is baked) and made efforts to revive Iga Ware. Kilns of Iga Ware are usually built with stepped chambers, and firewood kilns were the common style of it. Until 1965, firewood kilns was the mainstream, and it was shifted to coal kilns and electronic kilns. Nowadays, gas kilns is the mainstream because it is superior to other types of kilns in combustibility and thermal efficiency. However, it does not mean that firewood kilns are inferior to other kinds of kilns. The unique feature that only firewood kilns can create is Shizen-yu (natural glazing). Shizen-yu occurs when ash in the kilns piles up on the surface of pottery several times and melts in the heat. The melted ash turns to be glassy and becomes like a glaze. Since this glaze happens naturally, its finish varies from one to the other. In other words, you can never get the exact same pottery. This makes each Iga Ware baked in firewood kilns special, and people cherish it very well. Since some firewood kilns still fire pottery a few times of a year, it is possible to see and feel the traditional techniques even nowadays. If you interested in, it would be fascinating to visit the kilns when they held the performance.

Features of Iga Ware 1: Patterns, Shape, Glaze, Texture

At the first sight, Iga Ware looks very simple and has few points to mention. In this paragraph, we take a close look on each feature of Iga Ware. Firstly, Iga Ware has specific patterns on its surface. The patterns are usually waves or cross stripes, and they are made with pallets. Especially pitchers and flower vases of Ko Iga (the early stages of Iga Ware) have this patterns a lot, furthermore, they have a pair of ears. Secondly, Iga Ware, especially Ko Iga (old Iga Ware) is very warped. The fascinating point of this feature is that the warped pottery is well-proportioned before potters finish it up. In other words, potters dare to shape pottery into an imperfect form. This is related to one of the unique Japanese perspectives or ways to appreciate beauty. It is getting to be commonly known that Japanese find beauty in something fragile or short-lived, such as cherry blossoms, more than other nationalities do. Finding out a beauty in imperfectness is another example of special Japanese perspectives towards things. The third feature is Shizen-yu (natural grazing) as mentioned in the last paragraph. This glazing happens automatically in kilns, but it does not mean that potters do not have any clues how the pottery would be after that. Surely, it is impossible to guess how exactly the pottery would look like after baking, but until some extent, potters are able to estimate how the glaze could be applied on the surface and adjust many factors to make the finish to get close to what they want. Since Shizen-yu is very unpredictable, it requires potters a lot of experiences to control its finish. The last yet not least feature of Iga Ware is the feeling of clay. Many of Iga Ware are created to cherish the color and the touch of clay. It does not necessary mean that Iga Ware has a very rough texture. The texture is often smooth rather than rough. As Iga Ware flourished as pottery for the tea ceremony and the tea ceremony was the symbol of the high culture, potters were very careful in creating a pleasant touch to users’ fingers and lips. Potters have been particular about the texture since then. Besides that, Iga Ware makes us feel warmth by its beautiful color of clay. Interestingly, Iga Ware can also give the pleasantly cool impression by doing one step before you use it. If you rinse the pottery with water right before you use them, drops of water make the color of pottery stand out and make a beautiful contrast. Iga Ware will be able to make food look even better, especially when you put a cold meal on it in the summer.

Features of Iga Ware 2: Clay

As mentioned in the last part of the former paragraph, the clay of Iga Ware plays an important role to give it uniqueness. The clay is mined from a stratum called Ko Biwako sou (old Biwa-lake stratum), and this stratum contains a lot of carcasses of creatures or plants. When the clay gets fired in the high temperature, the carcasses burn out and leave numerous fine air bubbles in the clay. The porousness clay is also called as ‘the breathing clay’. Besides that, this clay has extreme infrared radiation effect, so that it does not get cold easily. In other words, this clay is ideal to make pots and slow cookers. Actually, one of the most popular Iga Ware is earthen pots, and it is the best to bring out umami (*Japanese expression; the substance that makes us feel the taste of food or the material which makes us perceive that the food is delicious) out of ingredients. Recently, Iga Ware has been getting more popular and introduced to many families. Iga Ware has more varieties, such as casseroles (steamers) and smokers (smoker grills). It is very delightful to see that Japanese traditional crafts adapt themselves to present daily life.


・伝統工芸 青山スクエア
・伊賀焼窯元 長谷園

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Tokyo somé-komon ( 東京染小紋 )


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When you go to a special party, what will you wear? One of recommendations should be, of course, kimono, which will attract other guests for the gorgeousness. However, you may think the patterns of kimono are too conspicuous to wear, especially if you are a novice of kimono. It certainly needs some courage to wear kimono at first. Is there not some kimono perfect to such people? Of course, yes. Let’s try Tokyo somé-komon.

What is Tokyo somé-komon?

It is a method to damask fabric with pattern paper. It is also called  “Edo-komon” and it is better to think that Tokyo somé-komon is the official name designated as one of the Japanese Traditional Crafts, and Edo-komon is a kind of brand name of that. “Komon” means “small patterns”, and as it suggests, this method provides so fine and small patterns on fabric that they are quite seen as plain at a glance; the kimono of Tokyo somé-komon is modest but is simultaneously attractive and prestigious enough as kimono.

The history of Tokyo somé-komon

The start of Tokyo somé-komon is the Muromachi era of Japan, approximately 14-16th century, but it was not until the Edo era, 17-19th century, that it became broadly known to people; many samurai in Edo began to put small patterns on their formal clothes, Kami-shimo. Most feudal domain had their unique pattern, Sadamé-komon, to put on as a crest of the clan. Meanwhile, the samurai in Edo era were not allowed to splurge, and therefore, they could not wear peacockish clothes. The fine patterns that look plain at first sight allowed them to enjoy wearing attractive dress secretly.

In the middle period of the Edo era, the pattern came to be loved by women as well, and many new patterns were given a birth to. Some of them were made as an auspicious pattern for play on words or lore. One of such examples is a pattern named “Hatsu-yumé”, which means the first dream of the New Year in Japanese. It has Mt. Fuji, hawks and eggplants on the pattern, for a lore says that these three are auspicious if you see in the hatsu-yumé.

In the Meiji era, the middle period of 19th century to the early 20th century, samurai became de facto extinct, for the Meiji government abandoned the social class; therefore, Kami-shimo also became obsolete. In addition to these change, the trend of the nation was toward Westernization and many people preferred to wear such clothes of the West. However, the small patterns once loved by samurai survived this difficulty as a pattern for ceremonial kimono for ladies.

In these days, the kimono of Tokyo somé-komon is mainly seen at wedding parties, Japanese tea ceremonies, special dinners, concerts and so on. On the other hand, it is true that more and more people are becoming unaware of the beauty of kimono now, so some people make something other than kimono with Tokyo somé-komon, such as scarf.

What makes Tokyo somé-komon so exquisite?

As mentioned above, the patterns of Tokyo somé-komon is so fine that it’s almost plain. For example, one of such patterns, named “Goku-zamé”, has as many as 800 to 1,000 dots inside a 3-cm square. How can this be possible?

Tokyo somé-komon is the combination of making the pattern paper and dying fabric with the paper, both of which require exquisite skills to accomplish; this ignited the spirit of competition of the craftsmen in the Edo era. Kata-ya, the maker of pattern paper, strived to make so fine pattern paper that Somé-ya, the dyer with the pattern paper, can’t well handle. At the same time, Somé-ya endeavored to make full use of such pattern paper, as if saying, “the pattern is too easy to dye, can’t you make more intricate one?” This chain of competition and outdoing each other rendered Tokyo somé-komon one-of-a-kind pattern of kimono.

However, too many craftsmen have gone out of the business so far, some people say. Tokyo somé-komon, the perfect combination of two greatest skills, definitely requires the both experts. Now, one of remaining Somé-ya says, “These days, the quality of pattern paper became less good than before. I hope that the technology should be brought down to the next generation.”

When to wear Tokyo somé-komon?

Actually, kimono of komon are generally not good to wear at formal events. When you wear kimono at such events, you should make sure the pattern of the kimono should not be upside down. Many “komon” patterns do not have upside nor downside, so this is not suitable as clothes for ceremonial event. However, because of the history mentioned above, Tokyo somé-komon is exclusively allowed to put on at such events. On the whole, the more formal the party is, the finer the pattern should be, for the finer the pattern is, the more formal and prestigious it is.

One thing you should remember is that there is another Tokyo somé-komon brand, Tokyo osharé-komon. This line produces creative patterns for much more people, so most of them are not good for formality.

How to wear Tokyo somé-komon?

In order to look nice in Tokyo somé-komon, what you should consider is what color you should wear. But, there are various colors in Tokyo somé-komon. What color should we choose first?

All of all, the color you should wear is the one you want to. Or, you can also choose the obi to fasten your waist first. If you choose the obi of the color similar to your favorite Tokyo somé-komon, your style will be chic. On the other hand, choosing the one of the opposite color will make you more flowery and conspicuous.

If you are completely at a loss about what to choose, the modern trend is pastel-colored one with modest(-like) pattern. Such kimono is perfect for many occasions, including some special parties or formal events. So, how about wearing Tokyo somé-komon and attracting other guests at your next special party? They will ask you, “Your plain kimono is so nice,” and you should say, “Actually this is not quite plain. This is called ‘Tokyo somé-komon, and you can see the fine patterns at a closer look. Will you?” Oh, you have a good excuse to get closer to an attractive person, don’t you?


調べよう日本の伝統工業 3関東の伝統工業

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Murayama Oshima Tsumugi ( 村山大島紬 )



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?


  • 日本の伝統的織もの
  • 染めもの日本の歴史100
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Onta Ware

History of Onta Ware

Onta Ware (小鹿田焼) is a Japanese pottery from Oita Prefecture. The beauty of Onta Ware is its simple yet fine design, and you get a warm feeling as soon as you touch or hold the pottery. The reason why people attach to Onta Ware is because Onta Ware is designed to suit people’s daily life as a folk handicraft and makes them feel a sense of closeness. In other words, it is designed to be a tool for people not to be a work of art. A village that Onta Ware is baked is located the northern part of Oita Prefecture. The village is also called as Sarayama. It is considered that the origin of Onta Ware is in 1705, the middle of the Edo Period. The techniques were brought from Fukuoka Prefecture, which is located next to Oita Prefecture. Since potters built kilns in Onta region, they keep up the tradition and has been handed the techniques down from father to son. Now only ten kilns fire Onta Ware. Onta Ware became famous as pottery that is loved by Bernard Leach, a great British potter. In 1954, he visited Onta region and took part in baking. The reason why sometimes you can see exotic designs in Onta Ware is might because of the influence of him. In 1995, Onta Ware was recognized as an Intangible Cultural Property by the Japanese government.

Impressions and Designs

Onta Ware is made of red clay, so that you can feel the strength and the warmth of clay from the surface. You can even feel as if you smelled earth from it. As it looks quite solid, you might guess that it would be heavy. In contrast to its impression, its weight is quite moderate. Besides that, the price of Onta Ware is very reasonable even though it is baked in kilns with traditional techniques. As for use and price, Onta Ware is considered as a folk handicraft and liked by many people as a part of their food culture. On the surface of Onta Ware, glaze or some decorations are added. For glazing, white glaze, amber glaze, and yellow ash glaze are common. For decorations, potters use some tools to make different designs. The typical styles are small dots or fine lines designed radically or all over the surface. One of the techniques is called Tobi-kanna. While potters rotate potter’s wheels, they scratch the surface of pottery at equal intervals with an iron plane before the pottery gets completely dry. This is one of the techniques that Bernard Leach was very fascinated with. Potters also use a comb or their fingers for other designs. What the common feature of all designs is that they are designed to make the nature of clay stand out.

The Unique Features of Onta Ware: Clay and Sarayama Village

All clay which is used for Onta Ware is from Sarayama (Onta) region. The entire Sarayama village is located on the great earth that is suitable for pottery, and potters can reach the rich stratum by just digging the surface of the ground a little bit. Potters cooperate with each other to gather soil twice or three times per year, and the soil is distributed equally to each kiln. After that, potters put the soil in wooden mills and crush the soil to make it moderately fine for shaping pottery. One of the unique points of Onta Ware is that almost all manufacture processes have not changed since it was started. Especially, tempering the soil with wooden mills is very traditional and adds additional taste and feature to the process of creating Onta Ware. Like water mill, the mill is designed to utilize the power of a river located in Sarayama region. The structure of the mill is quite similar with Sozu (Shishiodoshi). Sozu is a water-filled bamboo tube which clacks against a stone when emptied. You would have ever seen it in Japanese gardens. The water mill has a log on the edge of the river. One side of the log is curved to collect water on it, and the other side of the log is connected to a mallet. When water fills one side of the log, the mallet on the other side is raised accordingly. As soon as the water overflows from the hole, the mallet swing down and crush the soil. Whenever the mills move, the logs make strong yet pleasant wooden sound. As potters keep using the same technique since they started to make Onta Ware, this wooden sound echoing throughout the village nowadays is almost the same as the one sounded 300 years ago. In other words, you can feel and experience the old days of Sarayama region as if you were there 300 years ago. This is one of the special charms that Onta Ware has. The sound of water mills is officially valued as one of the precious sounds in Japan; moreover, Japanese government recognizes the sound as one of 100 beautiful sounds that must be preserved. This traditional milling process takes around two weeks until the soil gets fine enough. The next process is elutriation. After that, potters dry the soil perfectly, and finally, they can start shaping pottery. This whole processes for purifying soil take even two months. While potters in other pottery-producing districts use machines for it, potters of Onta Ware stick to traditional techniques. It is because they cherish the tradition more than time or trouble they could save. As mentioned in the beginning, the techniques of Onta Ware have been inherited from fathers to their sons. Furthermore, all manufacture processes are done by potters and their family. It is no exaggerations to say that Onta Ware is the family business. In Sarayama region, men are in charge of gathering and tempering soil, shaping pottery and firing them. On the other hands, women are in charge of tasks that do not need a lot of power, such as elutriating soil. Since potters started to bake Onta Ware in this region, they decline to introduce machines, hire potters from other regions and take pupils. To keep the tradition, they decided to divide up the work among family instead of taking additional support from outside of the village. The warm feeling that you can get immediately by touching Onta Ware might be because of the family atmosphere in manufacturing.


・小鹿田焼 さとう
・日田市観光協会 おいでひた.com

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Honba Kihachijo ( 本場黄八丈 )

If one of your friends wears a yellow suit, you might well think that it is too flamboyant unless he or she is so glamorous an icon of fashion. However, if what they wear is yellow kimono, your friend must be attractive without doubt. So, what if the yellow kimono were even special one? Honba Kihachijo is such really special cloth of kimono. The “Ki” in “Kihachijo” means yellow, not energy; well, it is made by very energetic people, though.


( image from : )

What is the yellow of Honba Kihachijo?

The homeland of Honba Kihachijo lies 300 km of Tokyo; the island is named “Hachijo-jima”. There are abundant of tropical plants, including palm trees and hibiscus in the island far from the main island of Japan, and you can enjoy many seasonal flowers in the colorful landscape. However, what they use to make the beautiful yellow fabric is not such a tropical plant; actually, it’s a kind of almost nameless weeds, which grow even in the main island of Japan. This is called “Kobuna-gusa”. They found this weed dye beautifully yellow, and cultivate this plant as one of their precious treasure.

The yellow from Kobuna-gusa, which the islander calls “Hachijo Kariyasu”, is said to last for 3 generations, and the more you wear and love the yellow, the yellower and more beautiful the kimono becomes. Of course, the strings to weave the fabric are also strong enough to last almost forever.

The history of Honba Kihachijo

Hachijo-jima was thought to be “the island where even a bird does not perches”, which means the nature of the island was so wild. However, the islanders were originally great at making cloth, for they had communicated well with the people who came from the main island. In 14th century, they began to offer their fabric to the tycoon in the main island. Because of the perfection of their fabric, even many biggest figures from the main island tried to control the manufactures.

In early 17 century, the Edo era in Japan, they began to offer their beautiful yellow fabric to the tycoon, the Tokugawa. This offer had lasted for more than 300 years, during which they are thought to have made almost 300,000 Kihachijo.

By the way, yellow was thought to be a purifying color in the Edo era. So, many doctors preferred the color to put himself in. On the other hand, the color was also the best clothes among low-class samurai or such women.

But I digress. Now, what made Honba Kihachijo famous? It was a play of Japanese ballad drama, “Joruri”. In the play named “Koimusume Mukashi Hachijo”, the yellow kimono of the island was used as the costume: the dawn of skyrocketing popularity of Honba Kihachijo. Actually, the term, “Kihachijo”, used to refer to general yellow-stripped or -checkered fabric, but by the popularity of the yellow, the term came to refer to only the fabric made in the island. Also, the name of the island, “Hachijo-jima”, is derived from this “Kihachijo”. Yes, this yellow fabric saved and established the whole island indeed.

Various Kihachijo, including not yellow ones

If you look for Honba Kihachijo in market, you rarely find the plain yellow fabric of Honba Kihachijo. This is because it is so difficult to dye not blocky with Kobuna-gusa that the fabric of Honba Kihachijo is mainly striped or checkered. These patterns are one of the reasons why many people love Honba Kihachijo: it’s modern and so fashionable.

Actually, there are Kihachijo, whose main color is not yellow in spite of the name: they are mainly brown or black. The ways of dying of these two fabrics are also different, and the black one is another special fabric for the method. In this case, the strings to weave the fabric were dyed by a plant, ” Castanopsis sieboldii” in the scientific name, and then by mud. Through dipping into mud, the tannin of the plant and the iron of mud are conbined to dye the strings black. This black fabric is called “Kurohachijo” (Kuro means black, as you guess), and it is all the more precious because it takes a long time to make one for the time-consuming ingredients and method. However, here is one thinkg to note. There is the other “Kurohachijo”, which is made in Itsuka-ichi, Tokyo. If you look for the former one, you should ask for “Kurohachijo” of “Kihachijo” (Confusing?).

By the way, the “Honba” in “Honba Kihachijo” means “authentic” or “bona fide”. Is it another Kihachijo? Yes, it is. It is the one made in Akita prefecture; this Kihachijo is dyed by rugosa roses, not by Kobuna-gusa. Of course, it does not mean this Akita Kihatchijo is a fake. Don’t get it wrong.

How to be fashionable in the yellow kimono

Perhaps, you may well think: Okay, fine. But yellow kimono? It’s too vivid! Maybe you are true. Yellow and checkered (or striped) kimono must be conspicuous and some of you may feel it embarrassing. However, Honba Kihachijo is too good to miss. How should we wear this historical and traditional masterpiece? The answer is “Obi”.

Obi is a Japanese belt or band to wrap and squeeze your waist on Kimono. Choosing right obi is totally necessary to be fashionable in Honba Kihachijo.

For example, if you choose brown or black one, your total figure will be less conspicuous and chic. With red or green one, the style will be much more eye-catching, so it must be perfect in speech or when you stand in front of big audience to receive their attention.

If you want to wear it in Western style, it may be possible to use the fabric to tailor your suit. Of course, the yellow-checkered suit may be perfect for very limited people, but how about making your vest with this fabric for instance? Imagine you have vivid yellow in your black or gray jacket. Now, you have to think about the tie and handkerchief to go with. There are so many things to perfect your style, but it is a part of amusement to be fashionable, isn’t it?


日英対訳 日本の歴史100

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Tama ori ( 多摩織 )


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Many conservative people insist that a suit should be the best wearing to go to their business appointment and also expect others to follow “suit”. However, more and more people are becoming fond of expressing themselves through their fashion and the way they are, and what to wear the day is their most important issue for them. If you are one of such fashionable people but watched carefully by conservative business partners, one of your options is wear Tama-ori.

What’s Tama-ori?

Tama-ori is one of traditional manufacturing of fabrics in Japan, mainly practiced in Hachioji, Tokyo. You may well think, “Traditional manufacturing of fabrics in Japan? I can’t wear kimono for my business meeting.” Don’t worry; even if your client is not tolerant to your kimono style, Tama-ori is still your perfect option. Actually, Tama-ori is historically recognized as “natty dress for such men” and applied to making a necktie, scarf and stole now.

The natty history of Tama-ori

Tama-ori is not a name for one certain method to weave a fabric; it is the collective term for 5 weaving methods developed near Tokyo: Omeshi-ori, Tsumugi-ori, Fu-tsu-ori, Kawari-tsuzuré, and Mojiri-ori.

The hometown of Tama-ori, Hachioji, has been called “City of mulberry” for a long time. Mulberry was feed for silkworms in the region, which produce the greatest cocoon for the fabric. Because of the convenient location near Tokyo (or Edo, in the time), the people practiced and developed the method to make greater fabrics according to the need of the city people. On the other hand, they also made efforts to preserve the traditional methods, and this gave a birth to the unique fabric made by the eclectic mixed method of the old and the new. They called “Tama-ori” some historical methods of weaving then.

As most of the population in Edo were male, Tama-ori was loved as the brand of natty gentlemen. Although it has many fans of ladies, of course, this historical background turned Tama-ori into the lasting fabric for gentlemen even to today.

Five weavings of Tama-ori

Now, let’s delve into the 5 weaving methods. The first one is Omeshi-ori.

The feature of Omeshi-ori is its ruck. This special crease is called “Shibo” in the Japanese technical term. The yarn is twisted 3,000 times per 1 meter, and clockwise-twisted one and anticlockwise-twisted one are used alternately to make the ruck. This is the most famous weaving of Tama-ori.

The second one is Tsumugi-ori”, whose surface is lumpy. This lumpiness comes from the special yarn used. One yarn to make Tsumugi-Ori is called “Tama-ito”, which is obtained by the combination of two cocoons of as many silkworms to be striated: the other yarn is called “Tsumugi-ito”, and this is made from the floss silk of silkworms.

The third one is “Fu-tsu-ori”: this weaving is two-layered, and the ground color of the surface is the main color of the back. It means, you can enjoy this weaving reversibly.

Kawari-tuzuré has a really intricate design. This weaving method uses many and as colorful yarns to produce the greatest pattern on the surface.

The last one, Mojiri-ori, is almost transparent. No, not exactly transparent, but this weaving dare to leave some rooms between yarns; therefore, it gives clearness and transparency.

The modern Tama-ori

As mentioned above, Tama-ori has been recognized as gentlemen’s special fabric since the Edo era (17th century), and this image is still true today; many Tama-ori manufacturers weave neckties, which are mainly for business”men”, to venture to say. Tama-ori neckties started to be wove in the Taisho era (from 1912-1926), which is relatively recent, but the techniques and designs loved in Edo were wholly employed to make the modern one.

Of course, in these days, Tokyo is recognized as one of the most fashion-savvy city, where many international clothing brands hold the exhibition of their collection, as held in Paris of France or Milan of Italy. Such sensitive feeling to what we call fashion is also applied to Tama-ori products, but at the same time, they never forget the history and tradition built in Tama-ori. The eclectic mixture of the old and the new is never lost.

In this regard, Tama-ori has two brands in the main line. One is “Kuwa-no-miyako (桑の都)” and the other “Mulberry City”. Actually, Mulberry City is translated into Kuwa-no-miyako in Japanese. Mulberry is kuwa, and City miyako.

Kuwa-no-miyako was named after an old Japanese poem which depicted the landscape of the hometown of this fabric, and this line produces mainly Japanese wearing items, like kimono. On the other hand, Mulberry City produces Western wearing items, like neckties and scarfs of Tama-ori for more daily use. Daily use? Yes, it’s more affordable and inexpensive to get such accessories than to purchase traditional kimono.

Who should pass down this culture to the future?

The next generation should be nurtured. Some artisans of Tama-ori, while weaving greatest neckties, teach children at nearby schools as volunteer. This experience may produce the next master of Tama-ori, who will succeed this legend.

However, of course, it is so important for us to support the activity and culture like this by wearing the products. All we have to do is to wear the special necktie for our next business meeting, which will impress our clients and may drive them into purchasing their one.

Or, you can even order your original necktie through the official site. You can make your own one with your name on it, or it is also possible to give such a one-of-a-kind (literally) necktie to somebody special.

If you are the president of your company, it’s also so nice an idea to give your workers the special necktie with the company logo on it as a token of your appreciation for them. The appreciating speech should be like this: “Thank you for your all hard effort on the company! I have a special present for you all, Tama-ori Necktie! Tama-ori is Japanese historical weaving of the eclectic mixture of yesterday and tomorrow, and our company also should cherish yesterday and look forward to tomorrow like Tama-ori! Cheers!”


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Naraoka Ware

The History of Naraoka Ware

Naraoka Ware (楢岡焼) is pottery from Daisen City, Akita Prefecture, and it has about 140 years of history. Naraoka Ware is famous for its stunning deep blue glaze. It is considered that Naraoka Ware originated in 1863. This is the year that Seiji Komatsu, a member of a local old family, learned techniques from potters of Arima Ware and started to bake Naraoka Ware. Daisen region has clay for pottery, but the clay is far from perfect and ideal clay for pottery. Due to the nature of the clay, pottery gets cracks easily when it get dry, and pottery also changes its shape during a firing process. There were more kilns before, but many of them needed to close down because they run out of their funds throughout repeated trial and error. Furthermore, it was difficult to survive even for the kilns that completed perfect pottery, because mass-produced pottery appeared on the market. With the development of transportation networks, the cheap pottery was spread over many regions. It hit many kilns very hard, and only one kiln survived. This is the kiln which still bake Naraoka Ware today. Naraoka Ware had more variety in big jars before, but it shifted to have more variety in smaller dishes to suit the contemporary lifestyle. Besides that, potters have focused on making it easy to handle, giving it a warm feeling, and expressing beauty in pottery without too much decoration. Naraoka Ware has been changed to fit the taste of the times.

The Feature of Naraoka Ware: Clay

As mentioned earlier, Naraoka Ware is made of the clay that is difficult to handle. It is understandable that potters used the clay in the early stages of Naraoka Ware because there were not any other options – no other clay was available in the region. These days, however, it is fairly possible and even easy to import better clay from all over Japan or even the world. Is inheriting the tradition the reason why potters stick to the non-ideal clay? Yes, this is one of the reasons, but the main reason is because the clay gives pottery unique tastes. Roughness or imperfectness that Akita-region clay has is the features other pottery clay does not have. Since clay is the crucial material to create the quality of pottery or ceramics, potters generally prefer better or ideal clay to use. It is also simply because of a thought that better clay makes more beautiful pottery or ceramics. In other words, the beauty of pottery is found in the perfectness. On the other hand, the beauty of Naraoka Ware is opposite – it is found in imperfectness. People see the simple yet rough nature of the clay throughout pottery and find the beauty in its strong touch. One embodies refined beauty, and the other embodies natural beauty.

The Feature of Naraoka Ware: Glaze

The most outstanding feature of Naraoka Ware is the breathtaking blue glaze. During glazing, the color of glaze becomes turbid and the surface makes ripples and spots. Since its look resembles with sea cucumber, the beautiful blue glaze is called Namako-yu, which means ‘sea cucumber glaze’ in Japanese. Namako-yu is made of three materials. The main ingredient is weathered volcanic ash called Haku-do (white clay). This is the point that the glaze of Naraoka Ware is unique since potters in many other regions use feldspar as a main ingredient of glaze. Potters of Naraoka Ware mix the white clay with Japanese oak ash and straw ash. Japanese oak ash makes the glaze easy to melt, and straw ash makes the glaze have beautiful gloss and gives it transparency as if glass. Only when these two types of ash are mixed with perfect balance, the glaze gets stunning blue color. However, the ash is alkalinity, which is one of the greatest enemies of pottery. Strictly speaking, soluble alkalinity is the problem for pottery, so that potters elutriate the ash before they mix it with other materials. The processes are simple yet taking a lot of time. Firstly add ash and a lot of water in a big container, and leave it for a day. Secondly, throw away the upper part of the water on the next day, refill the container with water, and mix them well. Potters repeat this process about ten times. Before preparing the glaze, potters dry all materials first and measure them carefully. Mostly potters make Namako-yu, but it is also possible to create a white glaze by changing the ratio of white clay and ash.

The Processes of Naraoka Ware Producing

In this paragraph, we take a close look at some processes of Naraoka Ware producing. The first process after shaping is drying. Since pottery is still very soft after shaping and difficult to get the finishing, the pottery needs to get dry and harden to some extent to become easy to be handled. Potters leave the pottery for one or two days to make it half-dry and then curve or reshape for the finishing. As weather and humidity affect the condition of pottery, this process needs a lot of experiences. After the pottery hardens enough to be held and worked on, potters cut out the corner of pottery, smooth the surface, or attach a handle to a mug. After this process, the pottery needs to be completely dry, but it also needs to be careful that the speed of drying is not too quick. If it gets dry too quick, the pottery is easy to get cracked or become deformed. After the pottery completely dries, it is fired with about 800 degrees centigrade (°C). This time is without a glaze, and it is for letting the water out of the pottery. After this process, the pottery hardens very much and gets not easy to be broken by getting wet. The next process is adding an outstanding feature on the pottery – glazing. There is a point that potters put a lot of attentions on – the thickness of glazing. Glazing is seemingly easy, compared to other processes, but this is one of the parts requiring a lot of skills and experiences. If the glazing is not thick enough, the color of glaze does not come out very well. On the other hand, if the glazing is too thick, the glaze flows until unnecessary parts, such as the bottom of pottery. Needless to say, the glaze needs to be done evenly on the surface. In the case of Namako-yu, it is only glazed on the upper part of the pottery. On the lower part, an amber color glaze is added to prevent the pottery absorbing water. After the glazing, it comes to the last process – Hon-yaki (main baking process). Naraoka Ware is usually baked with from 1250 to 1280 degrees centigrade (°C). In some kilns, potters bake it with 1200 or 1300 degrees centigrade. All pottery that does not meet the standards of Naraoka Ware is broken into pieces, and only the pottery approved by potters appears on the market.


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1. The “Attus (アットゥシ)”

The “Attus” are traditional clothes of Ainu people(アイヌ民族). Ainu are the people or ethnic groups that has been living in the north Island near Japanese main land, Hokkaido(北海道), Kurile(千島列島) and Sakhalin Islands(樺太島). Their hunting and gathering ways of life have gotten many scholarly attentions in many academic fields for long period of time.
Winter time, those regions become incredibly cold. The snow start covering the land from November and the severe blizzard blows, Ainu have been long facing those vast snowy fields.
Ainu have been wearing Attus clothes for long time. But not like the past centuries, those traditional Attus wearing Ainu people cannot be seen anywhere in Japan. They have been mixed with immigrants from main lands, and spread throughout many parts of Northern regions. In Hokkaido only, there believed to be higher population density in the Shiretoko peninsula(知床半島), the north eastern lumpy parts of Hokkaido.
Remarkably, the Attus varies much not only by base materials but also by regions and designs. The materials varies from the animal skin(獣皮), fish skin(魚皮), to bark fibers(樹皮), glass fibers(草皮)and cottons(木綿).

2. Varietal Uniqueness

After arrival the cotton by the cargo ships which sailed the Japan Sea during the Edo period, the variety of “Attus” were flourished. The Varieties are so many, and their categories are still under debates.
Varietal uniqueness of Attus starts from the garment of animal skins. This include animal skins of Japanese bear, dear, dogs, seals, sea otter(ラッコ), pacific salmon(鮭), and a trout(鱒). The bark and glass fibers are also interesting. This includes elm spp(ニレ科), linden, Japanese elm, and nettles(イラクサ).
After arrival of cotton, the many Varieties of Attus arose. In The middle Edo era(江戸時代中葉), when Matsumae(松前藩), the one federal domain dealt trading with Ainu, shipped the cotton clothes. Since the cottons are suitably warm in those cold regions, and quickly distributed to Hokkaido Ainu regions. The amount of exported cotton clothes drastically increased by time, and they were spread out. The remnant cotton Attus are more than others in number. The followings 4 catgories are those different Attus based on cotton usage.

  • Chinjiri(チンヂリ). The Chinjiri was the name given for the Attus garments with embroidery. The clothes embroidered just by few colored cottons applique.
  • Chikarakarape(チカラカラぺ). Chikarakarape was the name given for the Attus garments with embroidered black and dark blues applique on Cotton garments.
  • Kaparamipu (カパラミプ) . Kaparamipu was the name given for the Attus garments with wide white cut-out appliques. The white covers most of garments. They were used for cemetery and rituals.
  • Lunpe (ルンぺ). Lumpe was the name given for the Attus garments with narrow strips of applique cloth patchwork. The narrow striped appliques are sewn around the front opening of garments.

The basic style of Ainu was with those half-length Japanese coat type Attus with other Accessories which include aprons(前掛け), hand protectors(手甲), gaiters(脚絆), sword carrying sashes(刀鞘), head band(鉢巻), waist sashes(腰帯).

3. Weaving(紡織), Applique(アップリケ), and Embroidery techniques(刺繍法)

The shape of Attus is just as a half-length Japanese coat type, but there are many steps of making. This includes 1). The fiber collection and its breaching, 2). Warping and weaving, 3). Sewing, Appliques, and Embroidery. The following processes are the guidance for the bark fiber type traditional Attus making described by Yoshimoto in “The Clothes of the Ainu People”.

1). Collection of fibers.

To make the traditional Attus, the bark of elm tree spp (オヒョウ) is used. The best time for collecting elm barks come after the rainy seasons of early summer when there are much more waters inside the barks. Then peeling the barks and soaked into the nearby ponds for approximately 10 days. After 10 days of soaking, the darts and impurities would wash off by clear water in the river and several layers would be peeled until the layers become one single thin sheet. Those thin layer then would be dried until they are breached by sunshine. Eventually the color of peeled thin bark layer become colorless white.

2). Warping & weaving

The dried thin layers then would be stripped by fingers to single lines. The end of obtained lines are tied together, and the line become long strings. Those long strings are then wound to the wooden pole and cloth beam, so that the lines are ready to be woven. Walking again and again those wooden poles and cloth beam. After setting up the warp line, the heddle(綜絖) is set, and then start weaving with loom(織機).

3). Sewing, Applique, Embroidery.

The lines are straightly woven to the fabrics, and those fabrics are then cut and sew together for basic shapes of Attus (half-length Japanese coat type). After the shape of Attus are sewn, then other dark woven cotton clothes are cut into the desired figure and sewn together as applique. The potions of applique is then decorated by embroidery.
Attus registered as Japanese traditional craft is called Nibutani Attus(二風谷アットゥシ)where the few products of Attus craftsmen are still produced in small scale.



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Kutani Ware

The History of Kutani Ware

Kutani Ware (九谷焼) is one of the most famous Japanese porcelain, and it is also known to the world with the name Japan Kutani. It is considered that the first Kutani Ware was baked in the early Edo period, 1655. Toshiharu Maeda, the then feudal lord of present Ishikawa Prefecture, directed his attention to rocks from a mine of him and gave Saijiro Goto orders to acquire ceramics techniques in Hizen Arita (the Arita Ware producing district). The first kiln was located in Kutani region. In 1700, however, all of sudden the kiln closed down. The causes or reasons are still not determined. This is an interesting and unique point of Kutani Ware because its history ceased once even though it is one of the world-famous Japanese porcelain. (Many of Japanese porcelain were confronted with great difficulties, but they managed to survive without ceasing baking.) The porcelain that was baked in this short period is called Kokutani, which means ‘the old Kutani Ware’. Kokutani is typical of Japanese colored porcelain, and its outstanding beauty and powerfulness of coloring are highly regarded. About 100 years after the discontinuing, Kutani ceramicists asked Mokubei Aoki for a help to revive Kutani Ware. Mokubei Aoki is a famous Kyo Ware, and he visited Kutani region from Kyoto and made an effort to reopen kilns. After him, other ceramicists established their own styles in Kutani Ware. Each of their styles has unique features, and they are discussed in the next section.

The Styles of Kutani Ware

The style of Kutani Ware is roughly divided into six. Two of them were already mentioned in the last paragraph. The first is Kokutani (the old Kutani Ware), which is the oldest style of Kutani Ware. The second is called Mokubei, which is named after Mokubei Aoki. Other four styles are called Yoshidaya, Iidaya, Shouza, and Eiraku. In this section, we take a close look at each of styles.

1. Kokutani

The beauty of Kokutani is in its bold composition. Kokutani was developed under the guidance of Kusumi Morikage, a skilled painter from Kano-ha (the Kano school). Incidentally, Kano-ha is one of the most famous and biggest schools of Japanese painting, and it was very active for about 400 years from the middle of Muromachi Period (the 15th century) to the end of Edo Period (the 19th century). The style of Kokutani is very dynamic and usually drawn with green, yellow, red, purple, and ultramarine. Lines are drawn in a free and easy style, and they make the paintings have more draining impressions. Furthermore, the composition of Kokutani is free from ordinary designs of pottery.

2. Mokubei

Mokubei was started around 80 years later after kilns of Kokutani got closed down. As mentioned earlier, Mokubei was developed by Mokubei Aoki, a skilled Kyo Ware potter from Kyoto. The feature of Mokubei is that the majority part of porcelain is colored with bright red. Its main motif is people, and it is painted with five colors (green, yellow, red, purple, and ultramarine) like Kokutani is. This style of painting reminds you of the one of Chinese porcelain.

3. Yoshidaya

The third style of Kutani Ware is Yoshidaya, and it is a revival of Kokutani. Kokutani also has a variety of styles and designs, and Yoshidaya focuses on Aode Kokutani, which means ‘blue old Kutani’. Interestingly, the actual color of Aode Kokutani is deep green. In the Nara Period and the Heian Period (ca. 700-1100), only a few adjectives to describe colors existed in Japan. There were only white, red, blue and black. Since Japanese only had limited words for colors, each adjective covered a great variety of colors. For example, in the case of blue, it described green, purple and even gray. Since the custom describing green as blue remains, deep green color Kokutani is still called as Aode (blue) Kokutani. Since Yoshidaya has inherited the features from Aode Kokutani, it is colored only with deep green, yellow, purple and deep blue. Red is never used in Yoshidaya. It has a lot of beautiful designs and very fine woven patterns. The entire surface of porcelain is covered by painting, and it makes us feel its solidity and elegance.

4. Iidaya

In striking contrast to Yoshidaya, Iidaya is famous for the beautiful red painting. Sometimes gold is added as decorations, but the main color of Iidaya is always only red. The beauty of Iidaya is in incredibly fine lines and the shades of red created by the delicate lines. Skilled porcelain painters are able to draw three lines in just one-millimeter space. Porcelain painters of Kutani Ware vied with one another to show their skills by drawing thinner and better lines than the others can do. Painters draw thin lines in different intervals to make shades of red. It is incredible that painters create the beautiful drawing only with one color.

5. Shouza

Shouza started about 125 years ago. This style incorporates Kokutani, Yoshidaya, Aka-e (red drawing; a technique to color porcelain mainly with red but sometimes also with green, yellow and deep blue) and Kinrande (gold painting; a technique to paint and decorate with gold or gold foil). Since the Meiji Period (ca. 1870-), Shouza has been the mainstream of Kutani Ware industry.

6. Eiraku

The last style is called Eiraku. It started around 110 years ago, and this technique was introduced by Wazen Eiraku, a Kyo Ware potter who was very active in the 19th century. The name of this style is named after him. The entire surface is firstly coated with red, and painters add decorations only with gold. It looks very stunning and gorgeous, and its elegance reminds you of Kyo Ware.

Each style has unique features and outstanding beauty in it. Even though they use different designs or techniques, the basic steps to paint are almost the same. Firstly, painters draw an outline of patterns with black ink called Gosu. This step is called Hone-gaki, which means drawing a skeletal frame (framework) of an image. Secondly, they shade the image with the same black ink. After the ink dries completely, the third and the main part of drawing comes. In this step, painters use only the point of a blush to add colors because this step needs to be done with a gentle touch not to scratch the outline. Besides that, painters are able to add a moderate amount of ink (about a one-millimeter thick layer) on the surface evenly by using the tip of a blush. This layer becomes lustrous glass after baking, and its colors come out very well. If the layer is too thin, it fails to become glassy and turns to be rough and dry.

How to Use Kutani Ware

Since Kutani Ware has breathtaking vivid colors and gorgeous designs, it will light up mealtime and give us luxurious atmosphere. To use Kutani Ware for a long time, there are some points to be careful when you use them.

Before you use pottery, please boil it first. By soaking the pottery in hot water first, a part of pottery that still has water absorbency gets coated and becomes difficult to get stains and smells. It is considered that adding a handful of rice to water enhances the quality of the coating. When you use plates for raw fish dishes, such as Sashimi, it is recommended to soak the plates in icy water before you use them. This process prevents the plates from soaking the smell of fishes.
After you use pottery, please wash it as soon as possible to avoid stains and smells staying on it. The best way to clean it is using a soft sponge or cloth with neutral detergent which is diluted with water. It is also acceptable to use dishwashers to clean them, but some parts of decorations are likely to be damaged, for example, gold and silver decorations come loose and fall or the color of painting fades. After you wash the pottery, do not forget to dry them completely. It is recommended to just place a soft cloth on painting parts and let the cloth soak the water. Please do not wipe or rub hard on the surface.
If pottery has gold or silver decorations, please do not microwave it because the gold and silver decorations spark and damage themselves very badly.


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