Oku-aizu braided crafts Photo:Fukushima Prefecture

Oku-aizu braided crafts Oku aizu amikumi zaiku

Natural materials and the wisdom of a snowy province
A traditional craft embodying the spirit of monozukuri

Description

What is Oku-aizu braided crafts ?

Okuaizu Amikumi Zaiku is basketry produced in the Mishima Town area, Onuma County, Fukushima Prefecture. This mountainous area in the Okuaizu region has much snow and during winter farmers are unable to work in the fields; as handwork in the snowy season, the craft of basketry has been handed down from olden times. Three plants growing in this region are used for basket making and give rise to three different types of products: they are the Hiroro Craft made from sedge grass; Yamabudo Craft made from crimson glory vine; and Matatabi Craft made from silver vine.
Okuaizu Basketry is distinguished by the use of local natural materials and their superb hand-weaving, which although simple, has a distinctive delicacy.
As Hiroro Craft, hand baskets, large baskets, and shoulder baskets are made by fine-weaving the sedge grass into a finish resembling lace stitches. In Yamabudo Craft, the tough crimson glory vine lends itself to making robust baskets and confectionery bowls. For Matatabi Craft, cooking utensils are mainly produced because silver vine baskets are pleasant to the touch and easy draining.
Okuaizu Basketry is a traditional craft embodying the spirit of monozukuri (art of craftsmanship), in which local people in harmony with nature make the daily necessities of life.

History

Fragments of simple basketry and rope were discovered at the Arayashiki archaeological site in Mishima Town, proving that such skills and techniques already existed in the area as far back as the Jomon period (14,000 to 300 BC). More recently, in old documents such as the “Aizu Nosho (Book on Agriculture in Aizu)” written in 1684 and “Toyu Zakki (Record of Journey to the Ou Region” in 1788, we find descriptions of basketry; although the origins are not clear, it would seem Okuaizu Basketry items have been made on a daily basis in this region for several hundred years at least.
The skills have been handed down to the present, but during the late 1960s, due to an aging population, the number of basket weavers decreased. Mishima Town was concerned if nothing was done, the craft would be lost, and aiming at the establishment of a local industry, the town embarked on a movement to promote the use of such handcrafted utensils and baskets on a daily basis. This campaign has spread through the region over the years and at present, more than 100 artisans are keeping the skills and techniques of Okuaizu Basketry very much alive.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Harvesting There are three types of Okuaizu Basketry: Matatabi Craft, Hiroro Craft, and Yamabudo Craft. The following production process is for a Matatabi Craft basket.
    The thick and mature silver vines are harvested from November onward until the first snows fall.
  2. 2. Peeling The silver vine bark is peeled off.
  3. 3. Splitting The remaining vine is split vertically into 4 or 5 strips.
  4. 4. Core Making A knife or similar tool is used to shave off the soft parts and make even thinner strips. The process from harvesting to core making must be carried out straightaway before the vine dries out.
  5. 5. Weaving the Bottom Uniformly wide strips are woven to make the basket bottom. The techniques used are the nihontobi-ajiro-ami (two strip herringbone pattern weaving) and yotsume-ami (open lattice weaving).
  6. 6. Weaving the Sides When the bottom is completely woven, the strips are bent up to form sides and weaving continues. The techniques mainly used are either nihontobi-ajiro-ami or zaru-ami (colander style weaving).
  7. 7. Finishing the Rim When the sides are woven to the prescribed height, the strips are rolled over and a rim fastened in place.
  8. 8. Reinforcing the Rim The rim is reinforced using the kumagotsuru or other plants.
  9. 9. Drying Traditionally under the airy and sunny eaves of a house, the basket is exposed to cold weather or snow to dry; exposure to cold wind increases its strength and reflections from the snow will bleach it.

Where to Buy & More Information

Mishima Seikatsu Kogeikan

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