Translated by Hilary Keyes
Handicrafts From Amami Oshima - Oshima Tsumugi Weaving
Written by Keisuke Yamada
Ōshima Tsumugi Weaving is the traditional handicraft of Amami Oshima island. Made through a lengthy process, products made from this stunning black silk simply have to be seen to be believed.
The traditional clothing of Japan has been the kimono for centuries. Perhaps the pinnacle of the beloved kimono is the famous Ōshima Tsumugi weave, yearned after by kimono-fashionistas all across Japan. It's no wonder that this fabric is believed to be so precious - from start to finish the entire process behind making the fabric itself takes roughly a year to complete.
Today, let's take a closer look at the appeal of Ōshima Tsumugi weave, the jewel of the kimono world.
Traits of Oshima Tsumugi Weave
In order to be referred to as authentic Ōshima Tsumugi weaving, the fabric must meet the following four conditions.
1. It must be made in Amami Oshima.
2. The color must have been made through the technique called dorosome (dyeing with mud).
3. The threads must be 100% silk.
4. The fabric must be a plain weave.
Let's take a closer look at each of these points individually.
1. It Must Be Made in Amami Oshima
In order to be called Ōshima Tsumugi weaving, the fabric must have been made in Amami Oshima; if it were made anywhere else, it would have an entirely different name. This point is the simplest to explain.
2. The Color Must Have Been Made through Dorosome Dyeing
To begin with, this technique requires the threads themselves to be individually dyed before being woven into textiles with different patterns or illustrations. The threads to be woven into these incredible fabrics are dyed using a technique that has been passed down for generations in Amamiōshima.
Dorosome or mud-dyeing, is an all natural fabric dyeing technique that can only be found in Amami Oshima; it is not possible anywhere else in the world.
Using the yeddo hawthorn trees (called te-chi in Amami Oshima), a red dye is first extracted from the wood and the silk threads are saturated in it. When these red threads are mixed with the iron-rich mud,a chemical reaction takes place and turns the silk black.
3. The Threads Must Be 100% Silk
Authentic Ōshima Tsumugi textiles are only made with pure silk, making them both high quality and high class fabrics.
All over the world, there are many different varieties of textiles; some of the most well-known are France's Gobelins tapestry, Persian carpets and Ōshima Tsumugi textiles. With a history spanning 1300 years, Ōshima Tsumugi textiles are considered to be fabrics of the finest quality on an international scale.
4. The Fabric Must be a Plain Weave
Plain weaving refers to weaving where the vertical and horizontal threads are woven alternatively (one over the other). Though this is a common technique, what sets it apart in Ōshima Tsumugi weaving is the minute nature of the silk threads. This fabric requires a highly skilled technique to make it accurately, but when done so, it is a particularly light and sturdy fabric.
After already undergoing this lengthy process under expert hands, finally the quality of the design or pattern of the Ōshima Tsumugi weaving further adds to the impeccable quality of the overall fabric. We visited the Maeda Tsumugi Kōgei (Maeda Weaving Arts Center) to see the carefully woven designs of their artisan. Though already 88 years old (as of June 2016), their artisan still actively produces the Ōshima Tsumugi textiles herself.
It's very impressive to watch her as she works so diligently to make these dearly loved Ōshima Tsumugi textiles on her well-used wooden weaving loom.
When the merchandise has been finished, it is placed in this storefront. With a wide range of designs and prices, by consulting with the shop staff and the mirror, you are sure to find the Ōshima Tsumugi textile that best suits you, be it a kimono, shirt or something else.
They also sell business card cases, coin purses and wallets for both men and women. Doesn't it sound fashionable to have an accessory made from Ōshima Tsumugi textiles? It must be lovely to carry such a beautiful traditional handicraft like an Ōshima Tsumugi wallet about in your pocket or bag.
This is the shopkeeper, Mr. Maeda. We were able to learn a lot about Ōshima Tsumugi textiles and their charms from him. According to Mr. Maeda, the feeling of wearing Ōshima Tsumugi fabrics is something completely different. When the Japanese author of this article tried on a shirt for themselves, it was just as Mr. Maeda had said: it was the most extraordinarily light feeling shirt he had worn, almost weightless in fact. And, as the threads are so fine, you really feel as though you have been wrapped up in something comfortably warm and soft.
Only in Amami Oshima can you find these traditional handicrafts. With numerous designs to choose from, you are sure to find one that best suits you, and could even cover yourself from head to toe in this luxurious fabric. What do you think of trying out some of these fabulous Ōshima Tsumugi fabrics for yourself when you visit Amami Oshima?
Maeda Tsumugi Kōgei
Address: Kagoshima, Ōshima, Tatsugōchōura166-3
Credit Cards: Maybe available
Other Languages: -
Phone Number: 0997-62-3076
Website: Maeda Tsumugi Kōgei (Japanese only)