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.
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 (http://www2.nhk.or.jp/school/movie/clip.cgi?das_id=D0005402132_00000&p=box) 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)