Kijoka lies in Yanbaru, land rich in nature surrounded by the sea and mountains in the northern part of Okinawa Island. For centuries, the women of Kijoka have woven basho-fu (fiber-banana cloth) to make summer clothing for the commoners.
Following a basho-fu exhibition held in 1907, the production of the craft was encouraged as a side job. In villages with little land available for cultivation, growing the vigorous fiber-banana plants (itobasho) turned out to be ideal. It was adopted as a suitable job for the women guarding the village while the men took on jobs in Naha as excellent shipbuilders.
Ogimi Village Basho-fu Weaving Association was established in1940 for research and the development of basho-fu as an industry. This was suspended temporarily during the Pacific War. Despite setbacks in reestablishing production after the War, the efforts of Toshiko Taira and others paid off with growing social recognition. In 1984, the Kijoka Basho-fu Industrial Cooperative Association was established and in 1986, Ogimi Village Basho-fu Hall opened to sponsor training programs for successors, among other things.
Kijoka Basho-fu, is now designated by the Japanese government as an Important Intangible Cultural Property.
Cultivation of Fiber
There are three kinds of Basho (Basho is a local name for the banana family, Musa liukiuensis):Fruit-basho (banana), Flower-basho, and Fiber-basho. The fiber-basho, which provides the raw material for basho-fu, reproduces through subterranean stems or rhizomes, so transplanting is not necessary. For the first few years, however, the fiber is rough and does not produce quality yarn. In Kijoka, the banana fields are carefully tended throughout the year, fertilizing the soil, prunning the leaves, and clipping the cores.
Stripping the fiber
The process of peeling off the skin of the harvested basho is called u-hagi. Holding the stem so the root of the basho faces upwards, the skin is peeled off strip by strip.
Stripping the fiber, Basho-fuKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory
The fiber is categorized in to four types: the outer top layer (uwa-ha) is used mainly for making sitting cushions (zabuton); the middle layer (nahau) is woven into kimono sashes (obi); the third layer (hanagu) has the finest fibers and is used to weave kimono fabric; while the core (kiyagi) is mainly used for dyeing.
Drying the Fibers
After several steps, the sorted fibers are dried in the shade avoiding exposure to the wind.
the Fibers into Threads
Forming a continuous thread by joining the split fibers that have been wound into a ball (chingu) is called ply-joining (u-umi). The chingu ball is allowed to steep in a bowl of water for about thirty minutes and then squeezed. Next the fibers are split to the desired thickness with a small knife. This is most time consuming because the quality of the final bolt of cloth depends on the uniformity of the ply-joined threads.
Adding Twist to the threads
To increase the strength and prevent loose fiber ends, twist is added to the warp and weft threads while spraying them with mist. This process requires skill. If the twist is not enough, the threads develop loose ends making it difficult to weave, but if the twist is too strong, the kasuri pattern becomes hard to match and the texture will not be pleasant.
In Kijoka, the main natural dyes used are Yeddo hawthorn (techi) and Ryukyu indigo (Ee)
Because basho threads are sensitive to dryness, the weft is soaked in water before weaving and the warp applied with mist while weaving. Rainy days and the rainy season (May to mid-June) are most suited to weaving. It generally takes three to four weeks to weave one bolt of basho-fu.
In 1943 the book Basho-fu Story by Yanagi Soetsu (1889–1961) was published privately in a limited edition of 225 copies based on the detailed interviews he conducted when visiting the village of Kijoka. This masterpiece inspired Toshiko Taira to revitalize the production of basho-fu.
"It is rare to see such beautiful textiles in this age. Whenever I see the cloth, it seems as if it alone is truly authentic. Questioning where this beauty comes from, the reason seems obvious: the creation process itself makes the beauty inevitable." (From the foreword of Basho-fu Story)
Taira worked at a spinning mill in Kurashiki, Okayama (now known as Kurabo Industries, Ltd) after Japan surrendered at the end of WWII. During her days in Kurashiki, President Soichiro Ohara of Kurabo Industries introduced her to Kichinosuke Tonomura, the Founder of Kurashiki Museum of Folk Craft, so she could study the basics of dyeing and weaving. Highly influenced by the Mingei Movement of Soetsu Yanagi, she became determined to revive basho-fu production and returned to Okinawa in 1946.
Social and life style changes made it difficult to build a viable industry, so hard times dragged on, but after repeatedly showcasing basho-fu in various exhibitions, she gained high acclaim. Then, in the year 2000, Toshiko Taira was designated a Living National Treasure.
Basho-fuKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory
Currently, Kijoka produces
about 170 bolts a year. The weavers pour continues effort into nurturing their
successors. Also, Mieko Taira, President of Kijoka Basho Business Cooperative Association, playing a central
role, they have been
actively exhibiting not only domestically but also internationally. In the
autumn of 2016, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London added a basho-fu kimono by Toshiko Taira to
Village Bashofu Hall
The Basho-fu Hall is a facility open to the public. In the exhibition room on the first floor, they hold exhibitions, sell products, and show videos of the production process. Training sessions for those learning the craft are held in the workshop on the second floor. Observers are welcome.
Taira Mieko, Bashofu textile workshop, Kijoka Bashofu Association
Images provided by:
Taira Mieko, kijoka bashofu preservation society
English translation by:
Miyo Kurosaki Bethe
English edited by:
Melissa rinne, Kyoto National Museum
This exhibition is created by:
Ikeda Yuuka and Ueyama Emiko, Kyoto Women's University
Dr Maezaki Shinya, Associate Professor, Kyoto Women's University
Dr Yamamoto Masako, Ritsumeikan University