|Japan's most ancient luxurious silk textiles |
The longer you wear Yuki Tsumugi, its colors become deeper, and the silken luster more gracefully subtle. Durable and mellow to the touch, material made of this fine silk has the reputation as being the finest of kimono textiles.
Yuki Tsumugi is produced in a 20-kilometer (12.4-miles) stretched area along Kinu River, the river of crystal-clear water that forms the border of Ibaraki and Tochigi Prefectures in eastern Japan.
Floss silk (made from boiled cocoons that are washed and stretched in lukewarm water, then dried in the shade) is used as it is spun, without being twisted into thread. The extremely fine strands are too delicate for automatic looms, but are woven on unique manual looms. All processes are done by hand, starting with spinning from the floss-silk, creating a pattern on the thread and dying it deep blue, ending with the weaving itself. It can take several months to weave one tan (unit of kimono) (38 cm/15 in. by 10.6 m/11.6 yd.).
Yuki Tsumugi has a long history and is mentioned in the literature written in the Nara period (8th century). Among the famous local products presented by Hitachi no Kuni (present-day Ibaraki Prefecture) in tribute to the Imperial Court was the forerunner of Tsumugi, and this is still preserved at Shosoin in Nara.
During the Muromachi period (14th to 16th centuries) the cloth was known as Hitachi silk, and became a famous regional product. The local lords of the Yuki family became patrons of the industry and presented the cloth to the Shogun of that period, thus the cloth came to be known as Yuki Tsumugi.
Since the beginning, a large number of creative refinements through the whole production process have been handed down through the ages. These days Yuki Tsumugi represent the Pongee of Japan. Yuki Tsumugi was designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property in 1956, and as a Traditional Craft in 1977.
Photo: Kimono and cloths of Yuki Tsumugi (Ibaraki Prefecture)
- Yuki-tsumugi, silk fabric production technique
- ©2009 by Association for the Preservation of Honba Yuki-tsumugi Weaving Techniques
Yuki-tsumugi is a Japanese silk-weaving technique found principally in Yuki City and Oyama City, along the Kinu River, north of Tokyo. The region boasts a warm climate and fertile lands, which are ideal for the growth of mulberry trees and sericulture. The Yuki-tsumugi technique is employed to produce pongee silk (also called raw silk) – a light and warm material with a characteristic stiffness and softness, traditionally used to make kimonos. Production of the material includes several stages: silk floss is spun into yarn by hand, with patterns added by hand-tying bundles of yarn before dyeing the yarn with indigo, then the silk is woven using a back-tension loom. The silk floss for the yarn in Yuki-tsumugi weaving is produced from empty or deformed silkworm cocoons, otherwise unusable for the production of silk yarn. This recycling process plays a significant role in supporting local sericulture communities. The traditional techniques to produce Yuki-tsumugi are transmitted by members of the Association for the Preservation of Honba Yuki-tsumugi Weaving Technique. This association is directly engaged in maintaining traditions of spinning, dyeing and weaving, passed down from generation to generation within the community. It promotes transmission of Yuki-tsumugi through exchange of skills, training of young weavers, and practical demonstrations.
UNESCO brand lifts spirits of 'Yuki' silk weavers
BY SADAHIRO KANAMORI STAFF WRITER
"Yuki-tsumugi" fabric is still woven on traditional looms in Yuki, Ibaraki Prefecture. (Photos by Sadahiro Kanamori)People dressed in Yuki-tsumugi kimono stroll in Yuki city as part of a promotional event.
YUKI, Ibaraki Prefecture--"Yuki-tsumugi," a traditional pongee silk fabric that once graced beauties of the Heian Period (794-1185) court, now has another accolade of which to boast.
The silk, long made in and around this city to the north of Tokyo, was added to the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in November.
The news was welcomed by residents, as the traditional industry has been hard hit by dwindling demand for kimono and fewer people willing to learn the art of weaving silk.
"I am glad that Yuki-tsumugi has been recognized because I believe it is the best fabric to be a cultural property of Japan and makes full use of advanced techniques," Yuki Mayor Eizo Konishi said.
"Fewer people are wearing kimono these days, and I think that we face a challenge in handing on the techniques. We'd like to use this opportunity to renew our goals and efforts."
Yuki-tsumugi silk dates back to the Heian Period, when the fabric is believed to have been delivered to the imperial court. The silk fabric became more widely known in the Edo Period (1603-1867).
Three processes for making Yuki-tsumugi have been designated as important intangible cultural assets by the government.
One, "ito-tsumugi," is the process of weaving silk yarn by hand without twisting the threads. A second, "kasuri-kukuri," binds vertical silk threads with cotton threads to prevent dyestuffs from penetrating into areas where patterns will be added.
The third, "hataori," involves weaving the fabric on a primitive loom called an "izaribata."
The UNESCO news also lifted the hopes of a Yuki-tsumugi wholesalers cooperative.
"We are glad that our predecessors' efforts have borne fruit and that Yuki-tsumugi will be appreciated not only nationally but also internationally," a cooperative member said. "We'd like to link the UNESCO recognition to our efforts in training successors and expanding sales channels."
Yoshio Toyama, who heads the Ibaraki prefectural cooperative for Yuki-tsumugi producers, was also delighted with the news.
"We are appreciative of UNESCO for adding it to the cultural heritage list when the industry is faced with tough conditions," said Toyama, who also serves as a vice chairman of a local group set up to preserve Yuki-tsumugi production techniques.
"It is good that we have preserved these techniques. Japan's treasure has become a world treasure."
According to the producers' cooperative, around 30,000 "tan" of Yuki-tsumugi were produced during the peak years from the 1970s to the 1980s. One tan contains enough fabric to sew a single kimono.
But demand for Yuki-tsumugi has continued to decline because of the lengthy economic slump and fewer people are buying kimono. Production of the fabric, considered among the expensive types of silk, fell below 3,000 tan in 2009.
For that reason, in recent years, plain versions of the fabric bearing no patterns have been offered at relatively lower prices.
The silk industry has continued to suffer from dwindling numbers of people willing to enter the business. Finding young workers willing to take on the job of "kasuri-kukuri," considered men's work, has been particularly difficult.
However, hopes are high that the UNESCO status will help Yuki-tsumugi become more recognized and raise demand, resulting in a greater number of trainees.