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Boushuu Uchiwa(房州うちわ)



When you visit Japan in summer, you’ll see many people in kimono or yukata. Some of them may have a paper fan in their hand; this is the Japanese fan, which is called “Uchiwa”. They fan themselves by their uchiwa to feel the tranquil breeze and enjoy the summer all the more for the heat.

Many uchiwa have great Japanesque images on the surface; thus, they are so popular as souvenirs among foreign visitors these days. If you want something more special, however, let’s look at the historical and cultural one: Boshuu uchiwa.

What’s Boshuu uchiwa?

It’s pronounced like “Bow-shu Uchiwa”. Boshuu refers to the area of Japan, where was called “Awa-no-kuni” historically, in Kanto area.

It was 1780s that the people in Kanto area started making their uchiwa by themselves. Boshuu was a production area of bamboo, which is the material to make uchiwa, and started their own uchiwa industry in 1877; however, this didn’t last long. The culprit is the Great Kanto Earthquake.

The Earthquake wreaked havoc on many uchiwa warehouses, and many dealers moved to a nearby area, Funagata-machi, to keep on their business, where they were able to ship their products to Tokyo. This triggered the expansion of uchiwa made in Boshuu: now, Boshuu uchiwa got given birth to.

Funagata-macchi and its neighborhoods were a kind of fishing villages, so the men had to go out fishing; well, who conserved the culture and techniques of Boshuu uchiwa? Actually, it was their wives. They made uchiwa as a sideline while waiting for the return of their husband from the sea. The culture was carried on by their daughters and their grandchildren to be alive today.

How are Boshuu uchiwa made?

To be the material of Boshuu uchiwa, bamboo must be of high quality. They are harvested during October and January, for they are “bug-free” and firm in winter. As you know, bamboo is a very tall plant, but making uchiwa requires a certain thickness, which allows them to make only a few uchiwa out of a chop of bamboo. Including this “culling”, the procedure of making Boshuu uchiwa has more than 20 steps to make just one, all of which are manual. Doing all the procedure by oneself only can make 4 or 5 pieces of the uchiwa, so in many cases, some people get together to do this work at once.

The over 20 steps to make Boshuu uchiwa

First, they select and harvest the greatest bamboo from many others. In Japan, there are more than 600 species of bamboo, but the qualified one is just one which grows in the area. Then, they peel and wash the bamboo. An artisan says that the knack is to spin the bamboo with the knife fixed, not vice versa.

Then, they half-split and soften the “naked” bamboo. The un-split part is going to be the handle and the split part the fan. Following this, they put a hole in the handle to weave the split part to make it fan by a string. After this, they cut the un-split part into a certain length. Now, the end of the part has a hole (as you know, bamboo has a hole in the center). They fill it.

They pass another piece of bamboo through the hole on the handle and knot the string, which was used to make the fan part, to the ends of the piece. Now, they have an almost-uchiwa-like shape. They fix some warps of the frames of the fan and roast it to make them straighten.

And then, they put a piece of paper on both sides of the frames by glue. The extra length of the frames should be cut then. In addition to this, they put a thin piece of paper on the edge of the fan.

Now almost done. They put some whiting on the end of the handle to make it round and press the fan part by a presser to make it firm.

The various styles of Boshuu uchiwa

In Japan, Taisho era (1912-1926) saw the growing number of Boshuu uchiwa to be 7 millions. The Boshuu uchiwa in this era has much more frames and some of them are weaved to shape a butterfly and the like. In Showa era (1926-1989), Boshuu uchiwa became much more popular as a small gift and underwent its heyday. Some of them had an image of famous actors or actresses of the day on the fan. Yes, Boshuu uchiwa was also an advertising medium then. In Japan today, many musicians (especially those who are popular among young people) sell uchiwa that has their images on the faces and the fans (no pun intended) wave them to cheer up during their performance, you know.

The modern Boshuu uchiwa has mainly 4 kinds: Round one, egg-shaped one, long-handle one and large one. Plus, some people make a special one that has an ellipse-shaped fan. Of course, this shape is not good to create airflow to cool down your face and also not very portable. So what is this for?

Actually, some people make Boshuu uchiwa as an ornament for their house. They place the uchiwa in their entrance or Japanese-styled room. The large ellipse is sure enough to put a great image on it: it’s something like a picture! Uchiwa have two faces, of course, and you can enjoy two pictures by just one uchiwa.

If you are looking for something to perfect your Kimono style in the summer, you should have a handy uchiwa. You can feel the scent of bamboo on the wind then. On the other hand, in case that you want something Japanesque to embellish your room, it’s a great decision to consider ordering your unique uchiwa. Making your own Boshuu uchiwa may take long, but it deserves the result. Imagine your friends find a large uchiwa on your shelf like a bottled ship. “Hey, why do you have a fan here?” they ask, and you reply, “That’s not a fan. That is a uchiwa with great pictures on the faces, so I place it there as a ‘reversible’ picture.”


【日英対訳】日本の歴史100 100 Things on Japanese History
新版 東京の職人―技と誇りを伝える百人の匠たち

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Edo Glass(江戸硝子)


(image: Mt.Fuji Glass from TAJIMA GLASS: )

Nowadays, you can find glass anywhere; thus, you may well think glass is not luxury. However, there is some “special” one in the world. One of such glass exists in Japan, which is called “Edo glass”.

Why is it so special?

Edo glass is the glass that is still manufactured in the same way as people did in Edo Era in Japan. It can’t be automated by machinery, and therefore the manufacturers can’t make that many at once.

Glass products are made by a mold. The glass creators hold a straw-like stick (which has a hole in the center) and put the “seed” of glass on the end. They put this stick into a mold into which shape they turn the glass and blow the stick. The material of glass on the other end of the stick begins to balloon in the mold, making the shape of it eventually. This procedure runs in great heat to soften the material. In this case, the finished product becomes thin.

There is another way of using molds: they put the heated material of glass into a mold and press it by the other counterpart mold. In this case, the finished product becomes thick, so it’s good for making plates and so on.

In addition, skillful artisans of Edo glass can blow the stick with material on the other end without a mold, and they shape it by rods. They put this in a kiln to exposure it into 1,400 degrees Celsius.

When put some patterns on this surface, the glass product is called “Edo Kiriko”; Kiriko means the technique to cut and grind glass to embellish it, and this cutting procedure is also manual.

Because of this manual process, the finished product becomes a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. The manufacturer can’t make the identical one twice.

The crystal-clear history of glass

The first piece of glass in Japan is thought to be made in its Yayoi Era (B.C. 300 – A.D. 300). However, the imported glass product is found in 1543 in which time a ship that was planning to go back from India to Portugal drifted onto the land of Japan due to a typhoon. This land is famously called “Tanega-shima”, where reportedly they exchanged their pelters for a large amount of gold coins. This story spread in their own country soon and many people headed for the country of “gold”, named Zipangu.

6 years later, in 1549, Francis Xavier, a Portuguese missionary, landed on Japan to gain the gold in exchange for precious articles of Europe. One of such articles was “vidro”, which means glass in Portuguese. Vidro soon became luxury exclusive for very limited people for a while; in Edo Era, they started making glass products by themselves.

During 1868 and 1912, namely in Meiji Era of Japan, this business got highly industrialized. They produced more glass products by the help of automation, and the price of such products became much more affordable for common people. In Meiji Era, Japanese people got cultural enlightenment to catch up with the culture of foreign countries, so this trend also propelled the momentum to pursue its development and follow the example of overseas countries. Of course, buying and using glass products, which originally came from foreign countries, was suitable for such a trend.

Some wars Japan underwent damaged this glass industry, but anyway, the technique of Edo glass (and Edo Kiriko) survived it. Now, glass products are inexpensive and seen anywhere in Japan (and all over the world). However, the products made by the technique which developed in Edo Era is called Edo glass and as luxury as it was in the time. Yes, they conserved not only their technique but also their value.

For what this glass is used?

One of the usages of Edo glass is making Japanese wind chime (Fu-rin). After blowing the stick to balloon the material, they cut the material off the stick. This cut surface is crucial for the sound of the wind chime.

Other ones are making chopsticks, mirrors or glasses. It might surprise you that they can make such a wide range of products just by shaping glass by their hand.

What’s diamnt?

Speaking of Edo glass, some people refer to diamnt (or gyaman). What’s diamnt and is it related to Edo glass?

In Edo era, Japan closed itself to foreign countries. Many foreign people who came to Japan then were Christian or of other religions, which were not in line with the policy of Tokugawa shogunate. However, Holland was allowed to keep the business with Japan even after that because they didn’t have intention to preach.

On the ship of them, there were some of products of glass, which were called diamnt by them. Japanese people called it “Gyaman”, emulating the pronunciation of Dutch people, and this product got also popular and prestigious in Japan. Diamnt is diamond in their language, and it’s thought that the glass products cut by their technique looked diamond.

Diamnt is not always related to Edo glass, but some Edo glass should have become diamnt through the Edo Kiriko technique. You can say that the piece of Edo Kiriko sure is as beautiful as diamond is.

What’s the difference between Edo glass and Edo Kiriko?

Both Edo glass and Edo Kiriko refer to Japanese masterpieces made of glass that are manufactured in the way the people in Edo Era did. So, what’s the difference? Let’s make it clear.

What you need to know is that Edo Kiriko is the technique to put patterns on a surface of glass. Therefore, if you buy a glass product which has a pattern on it, it should be called “Edo Kiriko”. On the other hand, Edo glass is originally the material and manufacturing way of the product, so the products called Edo glass do not always have patterns on the surface. They tend to be thin and perfect to enjoy your favorite drink. The thinness of Edo glass allows you to feel the liquid inside directly and enjoy the flavor much more.

Of course, some Edo Kiriko is made of Edo glass, so such products are called in both ways; they tend to be Edo Kiriko, though. It goes without saying that such masterpieces are combination of Japanese historical and cultural techniques, which makes it much more precious; some of them are used even by the Japanese imperial family!


新版 東京の職人―技と誇りを伝える百人の匠たち
日本伝統工芸 鑑賞の手引
【日英対訳】日本の歴史100 100 Things on Japanese History

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Edo Wazao(江戸和竿)



Nationally qualified “Edo Wazao” is collective name for one of the traditional bamboo fishing rods, Tokyo, Japan. It gained popularity especially in the capital city in the late Edo Era (1750’s), and it lasted until the early Showa period after WW2, when the carbon rods took their place in the fishing gear markets (around 60’s). One of the characteristics which distinguish the “Edo Wazao” from other Japanese bamboo fishing rod was the wide varieties which employ to the different species. Compared to the “Shonai Wazao” (Yamagata prefecture) which focuses mainly rocky shore fishing or “Kishu Wazao” (Wakayama Prefecture) which focuses certain crucian carp fishing, the collective name “Edo Wazao” contains several different rod types depending on which fishes to aim and where to fish.

“Edo Wazao” has two structural types. One of which is a single piece of bamboo. It was called nobezao(延べ竿)in Japanese. The other one is constructed by jointing the several bamboo staves, and called tsugizao (継竿) in Japanese. The numbers of bamboo staves in tsugizao are 3-20.

A single piece of bamboo, Nobezao, was common all over the Japanese archipelagoes, however, there were the high demands to fishing various fish species (a sweetfish, a goby, crucian carp, a parrot fish etc) around the Tokyo bay with small, convenient fishing rod to carry. These demands consequently led the development of tsugizao type “Edo Wazao”. The Tsugizao type “Edo Wazao” have gained popularity little by little among Edo fishing fanatics. Not only it was very convenience to carry, and also it was wonderfully beautiful craft. It is known that the nobles, such as Prime minister of Japan in early Meiji Period, Kuroda Kiyotaka also adored the beauty of tsugizao type “Edo Wazao”.


2 types of Wazao

It is known that one of the ateliers named “Taichiya-tosaku” (established in Tenmei Era) have hugely contributed the development of Tsugizao type “Edo Wazao”. The Originator of atelier, Tosaku Matsumoto   opened it right after he married with a daughter of commercial lumber dealer, and after dropping off samurai work in Edo castle. In fact, Tosaku Matsumoto wasn’t a first person to make Tsugizao type “Edo Wazao”.

There are same types in Kyoto already and Edo as well. But the superior fishing rods he created were beloved not only by townsman but also last shogun, Yoshinobu Tokugawa. In addition, many of his disciples and disciples related branched and supported the wide spread popularity of Tsugizao type “Edo Wazao”.

After the twists and turns in the fishing rods market, now, 5th generation of Tosaku Matsumoto (numbering 6th person after 1st) still works in Tokyo. Saburo Matusmoto keep atelier “Taichiya-tosaku” in much smaller scale under golden age of carbon rods market. After Transition to the carbon rods took their place in the market (around 1960’s), there are less and less “Edo Wazao” atelier and craftsmen. Now, they have cooperative to keep their traditional techniques going in eastern side of Tokyo, downtown.



The Collecting bamboo stems for finest fishing rods require many disciplines. Because there are many kinds and different characteristics of bamboos, and only the appropriate combination of bamboos becomes the finest fishing rod, the craftsmen need to know much of them. For example, Hotei bamboo shoot, named after Seven Lucky Gods of Japanese mythology and folklore is only good for sea fishing rod because of its strength and thickness, but not suitable for freshwater because of its heaviness and concentrated staves on the bottom. Third year of arrow bamboos are more suitable for sweetfish, goby, and other freshwater fish rather than other years of same bamboos because the first and second year of arrow bamboo stems have not enough hardness to endurance, and also 4th year of arrow bamboo stems become too hard, so it has much fragility than 3rd years of same kind. After the bamboo shoots have been selected, they are cut down and dried more than a month.


How to make

There are several steps for crafting tsugizao type “Edo Wazao”. Tosaku Matsumoto (6th) has said in the records that the craftsmen somehow become capable of imaging what they are going to craft after practice and long experience. They change the measurement of each fragmented rod, tools for craft and thickness, hardness of bamboo depending upon the images that came up, and the mostly, customer’s requirement. The methods are followed.

1). “Kirikumi”(切り組み)

“Kirikumi” is the first process named for cutting bamboo shoots for approximate length of each fragment. This is done by old Japanese system of weights and measures.

2). “Tameshita”(矯め下)

“Tameshita” is the second process named for preparation that straightens the bamboo. It contains removal of leaf buds, bamboo shoot skin, making small holes inside the bamboo staves.

3). “Tame”(矯め)

In “Tame”, the fragmented bamboos are heated on charcoal stove. Because the bamboos are thermosetting property, the craftsmen heated bamboos for appropriate moment, try not to be scorched.

4). “Makishita”(巻き下)

“Makishita” is the process named for clearing inside of the bamboo staves with several iron tools.

5). “Itomaki”(糸巻き)

In “Makishita”, the twisted strings are winded to the edge of fragmented fishing rod where each fragments joint for strength.

6). “Tugishita”(継ぎ下)

“Tugishita” is the process named for the joint adjustment of each fragments. There are two ways to joint each fragment. One of which is putting each side by side. The other way having core wood, and inserting two fragments from each side.

7). “Nuri”(塗り)

In the last process, “Nuri”. The craftsmen painted Japanese lacquer several times, and it takes about 3 month to finish. There are some reasons that “Wazao” craftsmen paint lacquer by hands, and it’s only them to do so.

After these steps, finally there will be the beautiful craft of tsugizao type “Edo Wazao” in the sale.



葛島 一美(2002)『平成の竹竿職人』。つり人社。東京。


松本栄一 (1966)『和竿事典』 つり人社。東京。

松本三郎 (2006) 『江戸和竿職人 歴史と技を語る』。(聞き手)かくまつとむ。平凡社。東京。

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Japanese Onsen (hot springs)


Onsen (hot springs) are one of the most relaxing experiences in Japan and are highly recommended. Many cities throughout Japan are famous for their onsen, including Beppu, Oita Prefecture. Places with onsen faciliites will be marked on most maps using the symbol ♨.

Effects of the Onsen

The effects of the onsen will vary based on the amount and type of minerals in the water. This information will typically be available at the onsen, along with the particular effects associated with that type of onsen.

In general, onsen are said to improve blood circulation and certain skin problems. Also, the calming effect that onsen have is claimed to produce mild results for anxiety disorder and depression.

However, even if you do not have any particular illness or concern, you can still you the onsen as a outlet for relaxation and stress relief. There’s a certain sense of rejuvenation that one feels after experiencing the onsen.

How to Use the Onsen

There are a couple of things that make the onsen different from just having a regular bath. In addition to this, there are Japanese customs regarding the onsen that one must keep in mind.

When you first step into the building of the onsen, there will usually be a foyer to take off your shoes and then put them in a locker (usually coin operated). You will then move to the counter where you pay for entry into the onsen.

After this, you make your way to the onsen part of the building, which is separated into women’s and men’s baths. There will be a locker room to get undressed and store your belongings. All clothing must be removed and long hair is to be tied back. You may use a towel to cover up but make sure not to place it into the water of the onsen.

Next there will be a place to take a quick shower. The only difference here is that is it sit-down style. After washing your hair and body, you are ready to experience the actual onsen. There may be several different types of baths containing different types of minerals, or there may be bath sets at different temperatures, etc. Sometimes there will be massage baths, open-air baths, saunas, etc. that you can experience all at the same place.

Tattoos in the Onsen

It is rather famous that tattoos are not allowed in Japanese onsen. In fact, many onsen have signs posted outside saying “no tattoos”. It isn’t recommended that one go into an onsen with any tattoos exposed. If you have a relatively small tattoo, you might still be able to enjoy the onsen if you cover the tattoo up with a bandage of some sort. There is also an increasing number of onsen that allow tattoos if this is a concern.

While the customs regarding the onsen may seem strict at first, when in doubt, you can always ask someone, or just do as you see those around you doing. Don’t forget that the point of the onsen is to relax and have a good time!

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Ryukyu Shikki(琉球漆器)


Japan is popularly called the Land of Rising Sun. A simple etymology will decipher why so. Japan is otherwise called Nippon or Nihon meaning “ the sun’s origin”. But do you know the same word ”japan” with the “j” in the lower-case has to do with lacquer-ware? It does. A term “japanning” meant imitating various Asian lacquer-ware in the 17th century. Later in the 19th -20th centuries the black color of Japanese lacquer ware found its way into Ford’s naming of certain automotive finish – Japan Black.

The art of l lacquer-ware arrived in Japan with Buddhism in mid 6th century from China via Korea. Today, lacquer-ware is produced throughout the Japanese archipelago. Outstanding are the so-called Kamakura Nuri featuring thin lacquer coating to carved wood, Wajima Nuri at the port town of Wajima featuring the use of the elm-like Japanese zelkova and, lastly, Ryukyu Shikki way down south in the present-day Okinawa.

The features

Ryukyu Shikki represents a unique form and style distinct from the neighboring cultures, featuring the use of inlaid seashells and various local artistic motifs. It is noted for a brilliant red less common in the rest of Japan. The distinctive red color is obtained by mixing raw lacquer with red pigment in roughly equal amounts – a mixture turning blood-red in the sunlight. Okinawa’s climate fits right into lacquer ware work which requires a balanced combination of temperature and humidity; Okinawa offers just that combination with an average temperature of 22.4℃ and a mean humidity of around 77%.

Besides forms and styles, Ryukyu Shikki is acclaimed for its beauty and sturdiness. Native woods abound in Okinawa, all suitable for lacquer ware. Deigo coral tree (Erythrina variegate) and Egokoki (Styrax j aponica), for instance, are both so sturdy and the grains so uniform that the products seldom crack. Sendan or bead tree offers impressive moire, so does Gajumaru ( Ficus retusa). Deigo is often used for large-size salvers and pots; Egonoki preferred for tea caddy, incense container, bowl, saucer, etc.

A few lines are due on a technique called Tsukin distinctive in Ryukyu Shikki. Lacquer is first mixed with pigments to form clay or putty. Shaped and carved, the clay is laid onto the object to create a three-dimensional effect. As casually mentioned earlier, Ryukyu Shikki features Mother-of-pearl inlay. Though not of Ryukyu origin, the art developed to a high level of sophistication richly employing papaya, plantain, palm trees, tomoe, and other such motifs of the sub-tropical islands of Ryukyu. The 20th century finds in Ryukyu Shikki popular designs based on the images of hibiscus and coral on more common tourism goods.

I might mention in passing that some Ryukyu traditional processes include the use of pig’s blood for undercoat to bring out Ryuku’s brilliant red color.


Now, we touch briefly on the history of Ryukyu Shikki. Shikki, incidentally, stands for lacquer-ware.

As the lacquer tree is not native to Okinawa, the raw material had to be brought in through trade. Unearthed lacquer-ware fragments suggest the industry budded already in the 14th -15th centuries. Records show an exclusive office known as Kaizuri Bugyo supervised craftsmen engaged in lacquer-ware production in the Ryukyu Kingdom.

In old Ryukyu, lacquer-ware was associated closely with politics and religion and used on many a ritual and ceremony often in forms of necklaces and such decorative articles. Lacquer-ware cups and bowls were believed to be tools for communication between God and man and widely used by the royalties and dignitaries on ritual and festive occasions. The Sho Family, the royal family of the former Ryukyu Kingdom, preserves among numerous cultural assets a set of lacquer-ware luncheon-basket, leg bowl and wine cups designated national treasures named “Nume Usuri”.

Prior to the invasion of Ryukyu by the Satsuma Clan of Japan, Ryukyu had enjoyed a booming trade with Southeast Asia, Korea and China. The trade with China also flourished partly through tributary relations and also through common exchange of goods. The Satsuma Clan, the southernmost clan of Japan now known as Kagoshima, Kyushu, seized Ryukyu in 1609 and disrupted Ryukyu’s ties with China and the rest of the southeastern Asian countries.

The arrival of a modern government in Japan at the Meiji Restoration terminated the feudal system and state monopoly. Ryukyu lacquer-ware came to find customers among common people and the industrial promotion exposition in 1881 offered them the first chance ever to see Ryukyu Shikki.

In 1902, an industrial apprentice school was founded in Shuri to rear lacquer-ware craftsmen to sustain the art of Ryukyu Shikki. Subsequently in 1927, the prefecture of Okinawa inaugurated a state-run Industrial Training Center and further in 1930 introduced powered lathes and sawmills. The war broke out; Naha was heavily air-raided in October, 1944.

By a stroke of luck, Ryukyu Shikki found its way out of the ravages by reviving its life, manufacturing lacquer-ware as souvenirs items for Americans, army civilian employees, PX, etc. The prefectural government installed in 1974 an exclusive department, Department of Traditional Crafts, and a center, Traditional Crafts Training Center, to back up the timely move towards promoting local industries.

In May in the same year 1974, the Japanese government placed Ryukyu Shikki among Japan’s leading lacquer-ware e,g, Wajima Nuri, Yamanaka Shikki, Tugaru Nujri and Kiso Shikki, and formally called Ryukyu Shikki.

In 1986, Ryukyu Shikki was designated a traditional handicraft and listed among Okinawa’s 14 traditional handicrafts.

Allow me to stress that in addition to a full variety of authentic cups and bowls, Ryukyu Shikki is equally rich in utility. Visit any shikki shops in Okinawa, you will find a variety of shikki pieces so charming – ideal for souvenirs. Chopsticks-rests, spoons, necklaces, ornamental hairpins, etc. etc.

In wrapping up our brief tour of Ryukyu Shikki, we first drop by a museum, Urazoe City Museum. Built in 1990, this rather new museum is the first shikki museum in Japan with a huge collection of Ryukyu Shikki since the 16th century down to the present. This is a must for you to visit. It’s in Urazoe, Okinawa and costs only 150 yen!

Another must is Naha Traditional Handicraft Center in Naha. You can enjoy a bird’s-eye view of Okinawa’s traditional handicrafts not only Ryukyu Shikki but other items, such as various local fabrics from different localities. (Nathan Shiga)

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Ryukyu Gasuri(琉球絣)

We now come to one of Okinawa’s traditional fabrics called “Kasuri”. (“Gasuri” is a synonym of “kasuri” – so spelled when preceded by other words. Spelled “kasuri” when used singularly.) Kasuri is a textile terminology referring to certain ways patterns are splashed in a somewhat blurred manner after a Japanese verb “kasuru” meaning “to be misted” – hence kasuri.

Before looking further into Ryukyu Kasuri as a fabric, let us pause on what it is and how it is done.

The features

Kasuri comes in three types by the direction the dyed yarn is applied: Tate (vertical) Gasuri when only the warp is tied, Yoko (horizontal) Gasuri when the weft is tied before weaving and Tate-Yoko (vertical-horizontal) Gasuri when both are tied to form double ikat.

Kasuri is woven into three colors: Kon (dark blue) Gasuri with white resist against an indigo-blue background; Shiro (white) Gasuri with kon gasuri against a while background and Cha (brown) Gasuri brown is used instead of indigo.

Kasuri can be classified into eight different types by the dyeing/weaving techniques employed – tegusuri gasuri, surikomi, tajime, orijime gasuri, hogushi gasuri, kushi-oshi gasuri, fukiyose gasuri and bokashi gasuri. We omit details here to expedite our discussion.


Now, a few lines on the history of Ryukyu Gasuri might be due here. This fabric has travelled a long way presumably from India down to a few local towns in mainland Japan over a long span of several odd centuries – from the 14th -15th centuries to the present. In the Ajanta Caves, India, there is found what seems to be a Kasuri-type pattern in the wears of people painted on the wall.

Haebaru has since been, still is and will heretofore be the center of Kasuri cottage industry and pet-named as the Home of Ryukyu Gasuri.

Ryukyu gasuri is rich in the variation of patterns – roughly 600 originals based on the Royal Patterns Album (Miezucho). Before dyeing, yarns are tied at set intervals to eventually depict prescribed patterns – an extremely time-consuming work. Weaving is done by the good old means of throwing the spindle back and forth to “draw” such prescribed patterned. A meter or two a day is as fast as any seasoned weaver can accomplish. Each roll of authentic Ryukyu Gasuri bears the Certificate Seal.

In yesteryears Kasuri was customarily a town wear, regardless of the materials used. That means Kasuri never was a formal wear but for occasions people to doll themselves up a bit.

Cotton used to be the main raw material for Kasuri, except in frigid areas, where cotton and hemp would not grow, silk was used. Cotton emerged in the Yedo Period to replace hemp which had long been the main raw material for textiles. Silk was costly and highly graded. Cotton then is a rather new entry in the history of dyeing and weaving.

Ryukyu Gasuri was woven of cotton up until mid 1960’s and worn commonly as daily wears. In the post-war years kimono culture fast faded, people wearing kimono only on memorial occasions or by those associated with kimono either by profession, business or out of personal tastes. Less demands meant less supply and eventually inactive production.

So, cotton kasuri disappeared not only in Okinawa but in Japan at large. Fabric manufacturers turned by necessity to silk for high-priced commodities, and the traditional skills in conventional dyeing and weaving barely survived along the way.

A kimono fan of mine, young lady in mid 30’s, told me once of her “unforgettable memory” at the Kabuki Theater I want you to share. It has to do with the functions of silk and cotton kimonos.

She owned a fashionable but cotton Kurume Gasuri, a derivative of Ryukyu Gasuri. It was high-grade kasuri which she thought good enough to wear and sit in First Class booth at the prestigious theater. In nearby First-Class seats were seated a group of middle-aged fussy ladies, who, on spotting her seated in a Fist-Class seat wearing a cotton kimono, deliberately “discussing the functions of silk and cotton kimonos” and “when to and when not to” be dressed in which, etc. etc. Well? An awkward episode but it tells how kimono is delicately woven in Japanese culture.

A moment ago I mentioned a derivative of Ryuku Gasuri. I might as well take a moment to touch on the subject. I pointed out on the history of kasuri that it had travelled a long way down to a few local towns in mainland Japan. In fact, there are three kasuri fabrtics outstanding in Japan. A lady friend of mine wore Kurume Gasuri. Kurume is one of the three and two others are Iyo (Matsuyama, Ehime) and Bingo (Fukuyama, Horishoma). The basic skills are identical from one to another and marked differences are found in the patterns.

Space limited, I wound not go any further expounding on the subject than just to say that Ryukyu Gasuri retains what any originals do in the quality of naïve craftsmanship free of elaborations often found in latter-day deviations.

To sum up our tour of Ryukyu Gasuri, I want you to get to know an organization actively engaged in the promotion and marketing of Ryukyu Gasuri: Ryukyu Gasuri Business Cooperative Association (Ryukyu Gasuri Jigyo Kyodo Kumiai). The association was founded in 1975 in Haebaru, Shimajiri, and not only initiates projects to rear future kasuri craftsmen/women but also organizes and participates in exhibitions and fairs on kasuri and other fabrics characteristic of Okinawa. A series of “Get-to-Know-Kasuri” workshops invite school children to familiarize themselves with kasuri culture and, in one of the workshops, actually weave coasters by themselves.

Lastly, to finish up your brief tour of Ryukyu gasuri I want you to view a short video ( to visualize yourself how Ryukyu gasuri is processed from designing to weaving. See how a swallow and a dog’s paw are made into designs. The images are marked onto the yarn and tied up before dying in indigo. Untied, the images come out white, as you see in the video, to be woven into the original design e.g. swallow, dog’s paw, etc. Weaving is a pains-taking work adjusting the marked portions to the original design. Four meters a day is as fast as you can weave. (Nathan Shiga)

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Kumejima Tsumugi(久米島紬)

So much talk on washoku and anime, Japan abounds in a lot more exotic charms hidden and buried for you to explore. I’m Nathan Shiga, a writer assigned to write on Japan’s traditional arts and handicrafts with a view to promoting Japan over and beyond, and I’m here to navigate you through a fanciful journey into Japan – into its world of traditional arts and handicrafts. The pleasure is all mine to keep you company.

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Yonaguni Ori(与那国織)

Okinawa is a treasure-house of exquisite fabrics. Visit almost every inhabited island in Okinawa, and you will find a local hand-woven fabric in every locality. The common denominator of Okinawa fabrics is naiveté – a quality that consistently characterizes them regardless of locality.

At the westernmost of Japan floats the border island of Yonagunijima, one of the Yaeyama Islands, 128 kilometers west of Ishigakijima – 20 kilometers closer to Taiwan. It is 11 square miles in area and inhabited by 1700 and visited in winter by divers attracted by hammerhead sharks in the surrounding waters.

So much on supplementary data on Yogaguni. I’m Nathan Shiga, your pilot for a brief of tour of this island specifically on its characteristic fabric “Yonaguni Ori”. As mentioned in the outset, Okinawa abounds in exquisite traditional fabrics of which this is one.

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Yuntanza Minsa(読谷山ミンサー)

I’m Nathan Shiga, a writer assigned to write on Japan’s traditional arts and crafts with a view to promoting Japan over and beyond, and I’m here to navigate you through a fanciful journey into Japan – into its world of traditional arts and crafts. The pleasure is all mine to assist you in your short journey.

Continue reading Yuntanza Minsa(読谷山ミンサー)