Kijoka banana fiber cloth Photo:Okinawa Convention&Visitors Bureau

Kijoka banana fiber cloth Kijoka no bashofu

Simple and natural 100% handmade fabrics
reflecting the climate of Okinawa

Description

What is Kijoka banana fiber cloth ?

Kijoka no Bashofu are a woven cloth produced in Kijoka, Ogimi Village in northern Okinawa. Bashofu is made from the fibers of the Japanese banana plant called Basho, and has been used to make kimonos in Okinawa since ancient times. Kijoka no Bashofu is characterized by its smoothness, lightness and air permeance. The firm and thin cloth, also described as “wings of a dragonfly,” are less likely to stick to the skin even in a humid climate and have been highly valued by people in Okinawa. Though Basho trees grow naturally in Okinawa, the people in Kijoka cultivated the trees to obtain better threads. The cultivation process, from pruning to producing threads, requires three years. Harvested Basho trees undergo manual pretreatment before producing fiber threads. It takes three months to weave a bolt of Bashofu from tree harvesting, and sixty trees are necessary. Kijoka no Bashofu is often called a phantom woven fabric because it employs the integrated, manual production process, from cultivation through dyeing and weaving with local materials, which is seldom found anywhere else in Japan.

History

Kijoka banana fiber cloth - History Photo:Okinawa Convention&Visitors Bureau

Bashofu is said to have been produced in Okinawa for a very long time since around the 13th century. During the Ryuku Dynasty period, a position specializing in management of the Basho gardens within the royal government was established in order to obtain high quality Bashofu for the royal family and aristocrats. Later, common people also began to wear Bashofu, and Bashofu was produced at regular homes for home use. Bashofu was mostly plain colored or striped, but in 1895, the women in Kijoka started to make kasuri (splashed pattern) Bashofu, and it then developed as a craft. Production of Bashofu increased as a side business for farmers, and was highly valuated at competetive exhibitions. They exhibited Bashofu at an exhibition and sale held at Mitsukoshi Department Store in Tokyo in 1939 where Bashofu drew significant attention and became widely known. Production of Bashofu stopped during World War II, but the industry was reconstructed immediately after the war ended in 1945. In 1972, Bashofu was designated as an intangible cultural asset, and this valuable cloth continues to be produced in Kijoka, home of Bashofu, up to this day.

General Production Process

Kijoka banana fiber cloth - General Production Process Photo:Okinawa Convention&Visitors Bureau

  1. 1. Cultivation of Ito Basho plant and U-hagi U-hagi is a process of stripping the skin of harvested Ito Basho by hand. It requires peeling onion-like stalks apart layer by layer from outside with a knife to separate them into four groups. The outmost, hard layer is used for small products such as tapestries, while inward layers with softer stalk fibers are suitable for kimono. The inmost layer turns to a dyeing solution.
  2. 2. U-taki U-taki is boiling layers peeled in the U-hagi process in a wood-ash solution. Basho fibers become soft when boiled in an alkaline wood-ash solution. A strong solution contains strong alkali, causing fibers to break, but a weak solution does not make them soft. Adjustments to the strength of a wood-ash solution is sensitive work even to artisans.
  3. 3. U-biki U-biki is a process of stripping boiled Basho by running a bamboo scraper down and scraping the skin of a stalk to collect silky fibers from inside. Cleaned fibers are dried keeping them out of the wind and sorted according to softness of fibers. Soft fibers are suitable for weft threads and hard fibers for warp threads.
  4. 4. U-umi U-umi is a process of spooling dried fibers into small-sized balls called Chingu to form a long thread by tying fibers together one by one. The stalk fibers at this point measure about 1.5m but will be formed to be threads long enough for weaving. The fibers are knotted together manually to end with tiny knots, which is an arduous task requiring artisan’s patience and elaborateness. This stage determines the quality of finished Bashofu.
  5. 5. Yorikake (Twisting) and Seikei (Warping) Yorikake, twisting the threads, is carried out before dyeing them to prevent fraying. The threads are misted with water during this process and then cut to be equal length.
  6. 6. Kasuri-musubi (knotting) With the threads stretched transversely, sections to keep undyed are wrapped with the Basho skin and tied with a string to secure. Threads may break if tied too tightly or dyed if tied too loose, which entails precise application of force.
  7. 7. Dyeing Bashofu are dyed with plant-dyes including Soushiju and Ryukyu Ai. Especially, Ryukyu Ai (Assam indigo) is a delicate dyeing solution that needs a constant check. Kasuri design patterns in the fabric are dyed by tying the threads with the Basho skin while highlighting the patterns. Regularly-arrayed dyed threads realize meticulous patterns in the design.
  8. 8. Preparation for weaving After a long process, dyed threads are set up on the loom, and are now ready to be woven once warp threads have been spooled.
  9. 9. Weaving Weaving commands only one percent of the whole process of Bashofu production. The characteristics of Basho threads have vulnerability to dryness, making them easier to break on sunny days. The rainy season is considered the perfect time for weaving because of the fragility of the threads. Weaving the delicate threads still requires concentration even though the threads can be woven regardless of the season while kept supple with moisture using a spray bottle.
  10. 10. Cleaning Woven Bashofu at this point trails the fragility of the threads, hindering commercialization. The woven fabric is washed and scrubbed with water and then is again boiled in a wood-ash solution. Soaked in an acid solution called Junazi which is made from fermented rice-washed water, the alkaline fabric is neutralized to give strength. The fabric is stretched to its correct width and length by tugging both ends, and is polished gently with a ceramic cup as final ironing. This final process spawns precious Bashofu.

Where to Buy & More Information

Ogimi Bashofu Kaikan

Ogimi Bashofu Kaikan Photo:Okinawa Convention&Visitors Bureau

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