Sea-bleached Yaeyama Jofu. Cloth exposed to seawater and sunlight becomes whiter.

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Beautiful textile travelogue - Aizu, Miyako, Yaeyama (Part 2)

2019.7.19

Three female artists bring new life to the handicrafts of Miyako Jofu and Yaeyama Jofu.

Sea-bleached Yaeyama Jofu. Cloth exposed to seawater and sunlight becomes whiter. Photography by Kazuya Ohmori

Light and wind of the southern island
Past and present surrounding ramie in Miyako and Yaeyama

The Miyako and Yaeyama Islands in Okinawa Prefecture also have beautiful linen fabrics that are so delicate and light that they can be compared to the wings of a dragonfly. A cool textile made from ramie, a perennial plant belonging to the nettle family. In this region, documents record that people wore clothes made of ramie at the end of the 15th century. For 36 years until 266, women continued to weave ramie cloth as tribute cloth for the poll tax. Even through hardships, they hone their supreme skills and weave the best cloth. That spirit, along with the techniques handed down, continues to be passed down as a pride of the island.

 

Ramie culture is still alive on these southern islands, far from the Showa village of Okuaizu. We visited three female artists who are active in bringing innovation to the tradition of ramie.

Miyako Jofu is the highest quality hemp fabric made from ramie. Photo provided by: NPO Ori no Kaido Executive Committee Miyako Jofu is the highest quality hemp fabric made from ramie. Photo provided by: NPO Ori no Kaido Executive Committee

Miyako Jofu is the highest quality hemp fabric made from ramie. Photo provided by: NPO Ori no Kaido Executive Committee


Pursuing the “smell of Miyako”
Reiko Niisato's
Colorful Miyako Jofu

In 1972, just before Okinawa returned to Japan, Reiko Shinzato, who had worked as a flight attendant and became a weaver of Miyako Jofu, saw a navy blue Jofu with a criss-cross kasuri pattern that was exquisitely detailed. "There's no smell," he said.

Dark blue Jofu is known as the representative Miyako Jofu. Ramie thread is dyed with indigo, and the pattern is made up of small white crosses. Photo provided by: NPO Ori no Kaido Executive Committee Dark blue Jofu is known as the representative Miyako Jofu. Ramie thread is dyed with indigo, and the pattern is made up of small white crosses. Photo provided by: NPO Ori no Kaido Executive Committee

Dark blue Jofu is known as the representative Miyako Jofu. Ramie thread is dyed with indigo, and the pattern is made up of small white crosses. Photo provided by: NPO Ori no Kaido Executive Committee

Niisato's highly honed sense led him to create a jofu that has the scent of Miyako, which is different from the dark blue jofu. Inspired by the brightly colored cloths of the Ryukyu Kingdom, Niisato's brightly colored works are full of the island's natural vitality.

Reiko Niisato's Miyako Jofu. It is characterized by bright and gorgeous colors. Photo provided by: Miyako Jofu Preservation Group Reiko Niisato's Miyako Jofu. It is characterized by bright and gorgeous colors. Photo provided by: Miyako Jofu Preservation Group

Reiko Niisato's Miyako Jofu. It is characterized by bright and gorgeous colors. Photo provided by: Miyako Jofu Preservation Group

At a time when everyone on the island thought that ``Miyako Jofu = Dark Blue Jofu,'' there was a long period when it was considered a heretic because of its uniqueness. Times have changed, and so has the island. Niisato used to be a maverick, but he inherited the traditional technique of dyeing Kasuri by hand-tying and now serves as the representative of an organization that maintains Miyako Jofu, a national important intangible cultural property. As time passed, Niisato also began to see the Miyako-ness in navy blue cloth. The strong spirit of the people of Miyako was condensed there.

 

Although Niisato is active as a dyeing and weaving artist, he has a stronger passion for thread than for weaving. She feels passionately about the threads, which have the strength of the grandmothers of Miyako who lived in the soil, and says, ``The various expressions of the threads are just like the grandmothers who weaved the threads.''

Although the ultra-fine threads of Miyako Jofu are delicate, they conceal the strong vitality of the island's grandmothers. Photo provided by: NPO Ori no Kaido Executive Committee Although the ultra-fine threads of Miyako Jofu are delicate, they conceal the strong vitality of the island's grandmothers. Photo provided by: NPO Ori no Kaido Executive Committee

Although the ultra-fine threads of Miyako Jofu are delicate, they conceal the strong vitality of the island's grandmothers. Photo provided by: NPO Ori no Kaido Executive Committee

Tear the ramie fibers into thin pieces with your nails and twist them together. Listen to the voice of the thread and tear where it naturally tears. It is the handiwork of women on the island that has been passed down through the ages.

Boonmi in Miyako. In Miyako and Yaeyama, ramie is called ``bu''. Akimi is pronounced ``nmi''. Photo provided by: NPO Ori no Kaido Executive Committee Boonmi in Miyako. In Miyako and Yaeyama, ramie is called ``bu''. Akimi is pronounced ``nmi''. Photo provided by: NPO Ori no Kaido Executive Committee

Boonmi in Miyako. In Miyako and Yaeyama, ramie is called ``bu''. Akimi is pronounced ``nmi''. Photo provided by: NPO Ori no Kaido Executive Committee


Breathing life into Yaeyama Jofu
tradition and innovation

When Sachiko Arakaki, the holder of Okinawa Prefecture's designated intangible cultural property, Yaeyama Jofu, began weaving on Ishigaki Island, Yaeyama Jofu was made with a rubbing-printed cloth using red dew from the Dioscoreaceae family. White cloth with reddish-brown kasuri fabrics by Nassen) was the mainstream.

 

When Sachiko Aragaki saw cloth from the Ryukyu Kingdom period dyed in vivid colors down to the ground at the Japan Folk Crafts Museum in Tokyo, she became convinced that ``Yaeyama cloth was not only white.''

Reconstructed cloth from the Ryukyu royal period by Sachiko Aragaki. The hand-tied kasuri is dyed with indigo, and the ground is dyed with bayberry. (Possessed by Ishigaki City Yaeyama Museum) Photo provided by: NPO Ori-no-Kaido Executive Committee Reconstructed cloth from the Ryukyu royal period by Sachiko Aragaki. The hand-tied kasuri is dyed with indigo, and the ground is dyed with bayberry. (Possessed by Ishigaki City Yaeyama Museum) Photo provided by: NPO Ori-no-Kaido Executive Committee

Reconstructed cloth from the Ryukyu royal period by Sachiko Aragaki. The hand-tied kasuri is dyed with indigo, and the ground is dyed with bayberry. (Possessed by Ishigaki City Yaeyama Museum) Photo provided by: NPO Ori-no-Kaido Executive Committee

Although the poll tax was known for its harshness, Aragaki felt that the weaving of cloth during the royal period was lenient. He investigated and found that the women weaved the cloth with pride in creating the finest cloth.

Yaeyama is a treasure trove of colorful vegetable dyes. Aragaki primarily expresses the nature of Yaeyama through the colors of the island's plants. Photography by Kazuya Ohmori Yaeyama is a treasure trove of colorful vegetable dyes. Aragaki primarily expresses the nature of Yaeyama through the colors of the island's plants. Photography by Kazuya Ohmori

Yaeyama is a treasure trove of colorful vegetable dyes. Aragaki primarily expresses the nature of Yaeyama through the colors of the island's plants. Photography by Kazuya Ohmori (by Chinatsu Yasumoto, “Island Handicrafts: Yaeyama Dyeing and Weaving Travelogue”) Nanzansha:https://www.jaima-mark.net/smp/item/book-other20.html

Aragaki also noticed that the people of Yaeyama took pride in their white background. During the royal period, the ground was dyed with yellow, red, or indigo, but in order to enhance the color, it was necessary to make the ground extremely white. In Yaeyama, cloth has been bleached by the sea for a long time to make it white, and this process is still preserved in Ryukyu dance. In northern countries, cloth is exposed to snow. In Yaeyama, they are exposed to the sea. It is an activity born out of the wisdom of people who have lived in this climate.

A traditional sea-bleached Yaeyama cloth gently inlaid with Ryukyu kasuri patterns. Photo provided by: Ishigaki City Textile Business Cooperative A traditional sea-bleached Yaeyama cloth gently inlaid with Ryukyu kasuri patterns. Photo provided by: Ishigaki City Textile Business Cooperative

A traditional sea-bleached Yaeyama cloth gently inlaid with Ryukyu kasuri patterns. Photo provided by: Ishigaki City Textile Business Cooperative


The blessings of nature of Iriomote Island
Weave with free ideas
Akiko Ishigaki of Koro Kobo

Akiko Ishigaki, who studied under Living National Treasure Fukumi Shimura, freely weaves according to her sensibilities on the naturally rich Iriomote Island, making use of the textures of materials such as ramie, banana leaves, and silk, and using a variety of colors derived from plants. Akiko Ishigaki is not particular about the outer fabric, and works on a wide range of products, from casual stoles to costumes for rituals and entertainment.

Akiko Ishigaki of Koro Kobo looks like a forest dweller from a picture book. Photography by Makoto Yokotsuka Akiko Ishigaki of Koro Kobo looks like a forest dweller from a picture book. Photography by Makoto Yokotsuka

Akiko Ishigaki of Koro Kobo looks like a forest dweller from a picture book. Photography by Makoto Yokotsuka

Akiko Ishigaki exposes herself to the sea on Iriomote Island. In her hometown of Taketomi Island, there is a ``Nunusha Beach''. Photography by Makoto Yokotsuka Akiko Ishigaki exposes herself to the sea on Iriomote Island. In her hometown of Taketomi Island, there is a ``Nunusha Beach''. Photography by Makoto Yokotsuka

Akiko Ishigaki exposes herself to the sea on Iriomote Island. In her hometown of Taketomi Island, there is a ``Nunusha Beach''. Photography by Makoto Yokotsuka

Akiko Ishigaki, who along with her husband has been self-sufficient in yarn materials and dyes on the island, recently had an encounter. She had the opportunity to weave fibers from ramie (called ``karamushi'') from Okuaizu Showa Village, Fukushima Prefecture, which is known for producing high-quality ramie. At first sight, her heart leapt at the beautiful luster emitted by Showamura's Karamushi, and she has been making many prototypes to see how she can weave it to make the most of its luster, known as ``Kira.''

In order to take advantage of the luster of Showamura's Karamushi, the fibers were woven as they were, rather than being torn into threads. Photo provided by Koro Kobo In order to take advantage of the luster of Showamura's Karamushi, the fibers were woven as they were, rather than being torn into threads. Photo provided by Koro Kobo

In order to take advantage of the luster of Showamura's Karamushi, the fibers were woven as they were, rather than being torn into threads. Photo provided by Koro Kobo

Cloth woven from thread hand-spun from Showa Village's Karamushi. The main character of this cloth is thread that gives off a pearl-like luster. Photography by Takayo Moriyama Cloth woven from thread hand-spun from Showa Village's Karamushi. The main character of this cloth is thread that gives off a pearl-like luster. Photography by Takayo Moriyama

Cloth woven from thread hand-spun from Showa Village's Karamushi. The main character of this cloth is thread that gives off a pearl-like luster. Photography by Takayo Moriyama

This time's textile travelogue traveled far from Okuaizu to Miyako and Yaeyama. Ramie culture has been passed down from generation to generation in each region. Something I noticed. Although the location may be different, those who work with Ramie's handiwork listen to the voice of Ramie and strive to master their own skills in order to respond to that voice. From now on, the conversations between Ramema and people will continue.

 

(Titles omitted)

“Ori no Kaido Vol. 01 Yaeyama/Miyako Edition” (both Japanese and English) Published by the NPO Ori no Kaido Executive Committee
A gem of a book that lets you experience the diverse dyeing and weaving culture passed down in the Sakishima Islands (Yaeyama and Miyako) of Okinawa Prefecture. The island's rich nature, history, and folklore are introduced through beautiful photographs and tranquil writing.

 

NPO Ori no Kaido Executive Committee
Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/orinoumimichi/

 

→Beautiful textile journey - Aizu, Miyako and Yaeyama (Part 1)

Text by Masako Suda

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