Ako Dantsu Rugs

“Exotic” cotton carpets from the home of the 47 loyal samurai

By Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

By: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Kyoto Women's University

The “ichijouki” (one-tatami loom), Ako cotton lugOriginal Source: Ako City Museum of History

Desire to emulate Chinese
banrekisen rugs 

Dantsu means carpet. There are three kinds of Japanese dantsu, namely Nabeshima dantsu,

Sakai dantsu and Ako dantsu, all of which are influenced by Chinese dantsu. Ako dantsu were effectively created single-handedly by a woman called Naka Kojima, who was inspired by the Chinese benrekisen rugs that she saw on her travels. After more than 20 years of trial and error, she commercialized Ako dantsu in 1874, finally succeeding thanks to improvements to the local traditional high cotton looms. Given that Chinese dantsu, as well as both Nabeshima and Sakai dantsu, are made on vertical looms, it is clear that this was an original concept.

Ako City Museum of History

Old Sakoshi ura meeting place, Ako cotton rug by Photo by Minamoto TadayukiArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Fruits of a period of blending
of Japanese and western design

The period of high Ako dantsu rug production was from the Meiji era until the beginning of the Showa era. The lives of even ordinary people were influenced by western design, and Ako dantsu, were in use as high-class rugs mainly in the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe area. The kanibotan (crab-style peony) pattern often seen on Ako dantsu followed a Nabeshima dantsu pattern first woven in the Edo period. Meanwhile, Ako’s own riken (sword) pattern is also found in Sakai, demonstrating the influence of Ako. Enjoying this mutual influence, dantsu were produced in high number, and their use spread in a rapidly modernizing Japan.

Sakoshi ura by Photo by Minamoto TadayukiArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Women’s work in a town built
on salt

Ako prospered on the production of high-quality salt during the Edo period, thanks to its warm dry Inland Sea climate. A large-scale solar evaporation salt field was developed in the estuary at Chikusagawa, and the salt that was produced was packed into salt bales and shipped from Sakoshiura harbor. It was the men folk that worked in the salt field. When production of Ako dantsu grew high, the wives and daughters of the men working in the salt fields began to work as weavers.

Dantsu factory, Ako cotton rug (明治末~大正期)Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

At peak, there were five to six producers

The techniques devised by Naka Kojima were carried on by her descendants, Matsunosuke, and business expanded in scale. A reputation for quality was established, and dantsu production grew steadily as an industry. In 1912, five workshops were operational and, by around 1935, all Ako dantsu producerswere concentrated in the Misaki area of Ako City. Although some factories closed and others opened, the number in operation was five to six, employing close to 200 people. However, from 1938 it became difficult to obtain the cotton needed, and all the factories were forced to close. 

The Kariya Workshop, Ako cotton rug by Photo by Minamoto TadayukiArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

The women of Ako again preserve

After the war, two factories reopened, albeit on a small scale. One ceased trading after a number of years, with the final factory, Nishida Dantsu, remaining in operation until 1991. Nishida Dantsu initially had seven weavers, but this had fallen to only one at the time of closure. Ako City authorities, concerned over the cessation of a local traditional craft, initiated training in the techniques involved in the weaving of Ako dantsu, led by the last weaver, Kirie Sakaguchi. In 1999, the first and second cohort from this training formed an association dedicated to handing down the Ako dantsu tradition. Currently, the techniques involved in Ako dantsu are being carried on, notably by local women.

Hase thread, Ako cotton rug by Photo by Minamoto TadayukiArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Basic colors are brown, blue
and white

Haseito, knotted yarn that will become the pile of the dantsu, uses 21- to 23-ply number 10 count cotton yarn. The yarn has hardly any twist. Originally, vegetable dyes were used, and patterns were mainly constructed in blue yarn from indigo (which easily colors cotton), brown yarn and uncolored yarn. Before the war, the yarn was colored at the factory with vegetable dyes. Currently, chemical dyes are mainly used, but vegetable dyes are sometimes used.

A hase thread is tied to the warp, Ako cotton rug by Photo by Minamoto TadayukiArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Ako dantsu
special techniques 1

The haseito is knotted to the warp yarn

The “hase” in haseito is a word specific to Ako and means “to knot yarn.”  The weaver knots, and cuts, the yarn in accordance with a diagram attached to the loom. After yarn has been knotted for one row, a weft yarn is interwoven, and the reed pressed down. Ako dantsu are produced on a Japanese high loom, making intricate weaving of the yarn possible.

Trimming of hase thread, Ako cotton rug by Photo by Minamoto TadayukiArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Ako dantsu special techniques 2

Trimming the haseito 

After about 20 rows, “trimming” is carried out. Cutting off the ends of the knotted yarn is a task specific to Ako dantsu. The tool for this is a pair of easy-grip Japanese thread clippers known as koshiore hasami, with slightly angled blades.  First, the left side of the edge of the pattern is trimmed, with the grain, then the right side, against the grain, and finally areas with no pattern are trimmed flat. This gives the pattern a raised feel. When “trimming” is over, the weaver rolls the rug forward and returns to the task of knotting.

Hase thread before and after trimming, Ako cotton rug by Photo by Minamoto TadayukiArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Post-trimming luster

The pictures show an Ako dantsu rug before and after the task of trimming. Painstaking effort produces a plump texture and luster. When weaving of the dantsu is complete and it has been taken off the loom, further trimming to finish is carried out.

Ako cotton rug with crab-style peony and of checkerboard pattern. by Photo by Minamoto TadayukiArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Aspiring to both

traditional patterns

and new designs

The weavers also work on patterns in tune with modern-day interior design and tastes, as worthy successors to Japanese traditional patterns (which consist mainly of Chinese-style flowers, and the traditional Ako dantsu patterns influenced by Persian and Turkish carpet patterns).

Credits: Story

Information provided by Ako City Museum of History, Hashiba Kazue, Kariya Workshop、Hitotoki,Wedge

Photo by Minamoto Tadayuki

Text written by Tanaka Atsuko

Exhibition created by Sumiya Momoko, Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Directed by Maezaki Shinya, Kyoto Women's University

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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