Hakata-ori Textiles

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Located in close proximity to China, Fukuoka Prefecture has a long history of interaction with Japan’s western neighbor. One of the fruits of these interactions was the introduction of Chinese weaving techniques to Japan.

Modification and adaptation of these techniques led to the development of Hakata-ori, a textile produced around Fukuoka City’s Hakata Ward. Now governmentally recognized as a traditional craft of Fukuoka Prefecture, it also represents a key element of Japan’s fashion culture.

The origins of Hakata-ori can be traced back to 1235, when a young Hakata merchant named Mitsuta Yazaemon traveled to China with the monk Shoichi Kokushi. For six years, Kokushi studied Buddhism while Yazaemon learned a number of techniques, including manju (Chinese sweet bun) making, ceramics and textiles.

When the pair returned to Japan in 1241, Yazaemon passed on his skills to the people of Hakata, incorporating his own designs as he began a family business. 250 years later, his descendants visited China once more to study textile production in greater depth. They further modified the technique they had inherited, and Hakata-ori was born—a name combining its region of origin with the word ori, or weaving.

The Hakata-ori production process passed down to the present day can largely be divided into five steps, with each step so complex that different craftspeople specialize in each one.

Hakata-ori is characterized by fine, supple, thick material—qualities attained by using a number of thin warps and thick wefts made by twisting multiple thin yarns together. These two layers of yarn are woven together using a reed that creates a horizontal bump in the fabric, and the pattern is woven by bringing the warps to the surface.

The solidity of this textile proved ideal for producing traditional Japanese sashes, or obi. It was appreciated for its durability, as well as for its tendency to remain tight once fixed while still being easy to undo. It was highly sought by men who needed to hold the scabbards of their katana in place as they moved.

Today, makers of Hakata-ori continue to produce new materials to meet modern needs, including bags, scarves, ties, and even wedding dresses. Why not try adopting some Japanese tradition into your fashion?

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