What is the sugegasa?
The sugegasa is a type of straw hat used by those working in farming and other outdoor occupations. Its woven structure allows a flow of air to the head on hot days, but the stems of the sedge expand in rainy weather to seal any gaps, making it waterproof. Each region has its own variation of the sugegasa.
The characteristics of sugegasa from Shikano
Straw hats from the Shikano region are made from a type of sedge called kasasuge. The cylindrical hat, topped with a “dragonfly knot”, has a beautiful crimson-red tinge. In order to achieve this red tone, the sedge has to be cropped at the base with a sickle, rather than harvesting by machine.
The streets and landscape of
The town of Shikano retains its elegant streets as well as a system of waterways dating back to its days as a castle town, once ruled by Kamei Korenori (1557-1612), military commander during the Warring States period. The sound of flowing water accentuates the calmness and tranquility of the surroundings.
The streets and landscape of Shikano
The streets are lined with rows of terraced houses with red-tiled gable roofs and lattice doors, typical of the San-in region of western Honshū. Visitors to Shikano are greeted by pinwheels and sedge hats hung on the lattice doors.
Shikano and Kamei Korenori
At the start of the Edo period, the famous local general Kamei Korenori encouraged farmers to make sedge hats for extra income during the agricultural slack season.This is how Shikano sedge hats are believed to have started.
Shikano sedge hats spread across the country
According to 18th century records, Shikano’s sedge hats used to be distributed via the Inaba area (east of Tottori prefecture). At their peak around 1935, over 80,000 hats were produced every year. There were about 70 households making these hats for supplementary income. In 1955 a sales guild was established, and hats were also exported to the U.S. Today Shikano continues to export sedge hats, still measured in inches.
The decline of Shikano’s sedge-hat production
As cheap plastic raincoats began to spread, and widening job opportunities for married women led to fewer craftswomen working by hand, Shikano’s sedge hat production started to decline.
Launching the Shikano Sedge Hat Preservation Society
As the number of skilled craftspeople dwindles, Shikano’s sedge hat production is in danger of disappearing altogether. To prevent this from happening, the Shikano Sedge Hat Preservation Society was established in 2009.
Shikano Sedge Hat Preservation Society
Shikano Sedge Hat Preservation Society is involved in the whole process of growing and processing sedge, and then making and selling hats produced in Shikano. It also promotes technical exchange with producers in other prefectures, like Fukae Sedge-Craft Preservation Society in Osaka prefecture, which makes hats for festivals to celebrate the succession of an emperor (Daijō-sai).In order that the craft may be passed on to future generations, the Society also demonstrates techniques of sedge-hat production to junior-high school students so they can appreciate the hats’ quality and charm.
The raw material
While there are about 80 species of sedge growing in Tottori prefecture, a species known as kasasuge, cultivated by root division, is used for making Shikano sedge hats.This species of sedge grows to about the height of an average adult female – ample length for hat making – and its supple but resilient properties make it perfect for making hats.
Google Arts & Culture: Shikano sugegasa (2017-11-19) by Movie by Takayama Kengo, A-PROJECTSTottori Prefectural Government
The first step in sedge-hat making involves building a frame of long-jointed bamboo. At the peak of production in the early Shōwa period, men made the frames, while women and children were in charge of sewing on the sedge stems.
The top of the hat
Once the frame is done, the top part of the hat is covered with bamboo bark to prevent rain from seeping through.
Known as shitaji maki in Japanese, this process involves attaching sedge strips around the underside of the frame, with the glossy side of the sedge facing down to create a smooth surface on the inside where the head comes into direct contact with the hat.
The outer layer
Before sewing on the outer layer of sedge strips, the stems are placed around the frame, from the brim up to the top of the hat. At this point a strip of bamboo called mawashi-take is used to keep the sedge strips in place at the brim.
The outer layer of sedge strips are then sewn together, one by one, using cotton thread. This two-layered structure makes the hat rain- and windproof. If you listen carefully to the towns people working at the community centre, you can hear the threads being passed through the sedge strips.
Once the outer layer of sedge strips has been sewn on, it is time for the final stage.The top of the hat is finished with a knot, called a “dragonfly knot” after its shape. This knot, made from 6 strips of sedge, is a unique feature of Shikano sedge hats.
Shikano sedge hat (2017-11-19)Tottori Prefectural Government
The future of Shikano sedge hats
Recently,people have started buying Shikano sedge hats as decorative objects as well as to wear, and makers are using smaller stitches to ensure the hats last for many years. Another way these hats are being enjoyed by visitors is the Shikano Sedge Hat Gourmet Platter (Shikano Sugegasa Gozen), where sedge hats are used as plates to hold cuisine made using a variety of the region’s vegetables. This looks, and tastes, like a luxury dish. It is available at Yume Komichi restaurant.
Much loved as a symbol of Shikano, local confectionery shops even sell a sweet called Sugegasa Monaka, shaped like a sedge hat.
Besides being a traditional craft, Shikano’s sedge hat business has a part to play in the renewal of the town. Many everyday utensils are woven from kasasuge sedge strips, creating new craft items that continue to delight visitors.
Shikano sugegasa wo mamoru kai
Tsuwano-cho Board of Education
Tottori Prefectural Library and Archives
Takayama Kengo, A-PROJECTS
English translation by:
Eddy Y.L. Chang
Text and Exhibition created by:
Amemiya Hiromi, Kyoto Women's University
Ishizaki Hitomi, Kyoto Women's University
Hosogi Nao, Kyoto Women's University
Dr Maezaki Shinya, Kyoto Women's University
This exhibition is provided by:
Tottori Prefectural Govenment