Hachio island silk

Hachio island silk Honba kihachijo

Silk textile handwoven by top-level artisans
Plant-dyed fabric depicting the nature of Hachijo Island


What is Hachio island silk ?

Honba Island Silk (called Honba Kihachijo in Japanese) is produced on Hachijojima Island in Tokyo. The name of this craft derives from a silk fabric with stripe and check patterns mainly dyed in bright yellow called kihachi. Patterns mainly dyed in black are called kurohachijo, and those that are dark yellowish red, or birch color, are called tobihachijo.
Honba Kihachijo's distinctive feature is that it is handwoven in three colors, yellow, black and reddish yellow by proficient artisans. They have unique dyeing techniques called fushizuke, akutsuke, and dorotsuke where they only use three colors, yellow, black and dark yellowish red. The three colors are believed to have been the only plant-dyes that could be obtained in the harsh natural environment of Hachijojima Island. Honba Kihachijo uses plants and trees indigenous to Hachijojima Island for dyes; a yellow color dye, the origin of Kihachijo, extracted from jointhead arthraxon, a dark yellowish red color dye from the bark of Japanese bay tree commonly called madami on the island, and a black color dye from the bark of Japanese chinquapin.
To dye the threads brightly and prevent color fading, it is essential to use a mordant made from mud or lye from camellia and Japanese cleyera leaves. Following thread feeding and warping, the dyed threads are hand-woven with a takahata loom to produce a subdued, plain or plaid textile with gracefulness. Plaid patterns in Honba Kihachijo are traditional patterns of Hachijojima Island.


The silk fabric in Hachijojima Island, the origin of Honba Kihachijo, is said to date back to the late Heian period. The fabric traveled inland from Hachijojima Island in the Muromachi period to pay land tax with, instead of crops, which is believed to be the beginning of Honba Kihachijo weaving. Paying tributes with the fabric continued through the Edo period, and until 1909 when the tax system of paying with crop yield was changed into that of paying taxes in cash. High-quality Hachijojima Island silk fabrics were worn only by feudal lords and aristocrats in the inner palace at first. As time went by, they grew popular among commoners. Believed to avoid impurities, the color of yellow was worn as an amulet to keep evil spirits away and protect them from any harm. It is said that plain yellow Hachijo fabrics were especially popular among doctors, which made the fabrics high-value and difficult to obtain. The initial fabrics were plain yellow or white which was known as Hachijo silk. The adoption of birch and black color dyes allowed weaving striped and checked cloths which were called Hachijo stripes. In 1977, Honba Kihachijo, an exquisite textile hand-woven by women in Hachijojima Island that supported the economy of the island as a specialty product, was designated as a national traditional craft.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Refinement A bag of raw silk is simmered on low heat in hot water containing sodium carbonate for approximately three hours. After being washed with water, the boiled raw silk loses glue and gains innate sheen and soft texture.
  2. 2. Dyeing Honba Kihachijo uses particular dyes: a yellow color dye extracted from jointhead arthraxon, a birch color dye from the bark of Japanese bay tree, and a black color dye from dried bark of Japanese chinquapin. The dyeing techniques vary slightly among workshops.
  3. 3. Fushizuke for yellow color Fushi is the essence of a plant extracted in boiling water, and fushizuke is dyeing threads by soaking them in the fushi. For dyeing in yellow, jointhead arthraxon is boiled in a caldron for two to three hours. Skeins of silk threads are placed in a line in the tub while lightly twisted individually, and hot fushi is poured in with a ladle. The process of arranging skeins of threads mutually staggered and pouring hot fushi over them is repeated. The threads are soaked overnight in fushi and then wrung before they are hung over the rods outside. To distangle the dyed threads, they are beaten repeatedly and then they are dried under the sun. Thorough drying is the key to produce evenness in dyeing. Dried threads need another fushizuke in the newly made fushi the following day. Dyeing in yellow requires a repeated process of dyeing and drying for twenty times. As the dyeing is repeated, the threads gradually become dark smoky yellow.
  4. 4. Akutsuke Aku is lye skimmed from ash dissolved water. The yellow dyes require white ash of camellia or Japanese cleyera leaves. A pot of water containing ash is left a week to precipitate ash at the bottom, and then a small amount of skimmed lye is poured over the threads and rubbed in. Mordanting with lye of camellia is necessary to produce a bright yellow color. Left for a while after the akutsuke process, the threads are wrung and dried in the sun.
  5. 5. Fushizuke for birch color For dyeing in birch color, the bark of Japanese bay tree is boiled in a bamboo bag for two to three hours. Same as the yellow dyeing process, fushi is used, but for birch color dyeing, the threads are shaken in the dye using two dyeing sticks, squeezed lightly, and hung on rods overnight. They are wrung the following morning and are dried outside. This process is called fushiaki, and is only carried out for birch color dyeing. Fushizuke is repeated fifteen times in the same way as the yellow dye, but unlike the yellow dye, the threads are covered with a cloth and pressed on a board overnight as they are likely to get mottled when exposed to air.
  6. 6. Akutsuke Akutsuke for dyeing in birch color is carried out using ash of small trees in the same procedure as for dyeing in yellow.
  7. 7. Fushizuke for black color For dyeing in black, dyeing and drying is repeated twenty times. After the fifteenth fushizuke, the threads are dyed in mud (dorozuke). Fushizuke is done again five to six times, and the threads are dyed in mud for the second time. This process is repeated until the threads become the black color desired.
  8. 8. Dorozuke Dorozuke for dyeing in black serves as akutsuke for dyeing in yellow and birch colors, and it uses mud collected from a natural marsh in Hachijojima Island. Iron-rich mud is drained in a colander and put in a tub, where skeins of silk threads are immersed one by one for three hours. The threads are then washed thoroughly in a river, and are wrung and dried completely.
  9. 9. Weaving The dyed threads are reeled and spooled before weaving. After the design is determined, the threads are starched. The warp threads are formatted and set in the takahata loom, and are woven with a handheld shuttle into traditional plaid fabrics. Honba Kihachijo adopts two weaving techniques that have been handed down since the Edo Period, hita ori and aya ori.

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