Yaeyama hemp cloth

Yaeyama hemp cloth Yaeyama jofu

Traditional patterns floating on the refreshingly white fabric
Natural colors nurtured by the sea and coral reefs of Yaeyama


What is Yaeyama hemp cloth ?

Yaeyama Jofu is a fabric produced in the area surrounding Yaeyama Ward in Okinawa Prefecture. The fabric is woven with the hand-spun threads from Choma (ramie) and it was dedicated to the Ryukyu Kingdom in the old days. Yaeyama Jofu is the only fabric that uses the Surikomi Nassen (rubbing and printing) technique in Okinawa. The refreshingly white fabric with dark brown Kasuri patterns is used mainly for the summer Kimono. The threads and dye used for Yaeyama Jofu are from plants naturally grown in Yaeyama. The main materials used are the fiber from ramie and dye from Kuru (dye extracted from the vine of the Dioscoreaceae family in Okinawa). The fabric is left in the strong sunlight of Yaeyama to deepen the color and the white color becomes whiter by soaking the fiber in the seawater. These processes make the Kasuri patterns look even more vivid.

The characteristics of Yaeyama Jofu are the dry texture of the hand-spun ramie threads that create the airy feel to the fabric and gentle Kasuri patterns that float in the white background. It takes approx. 50 days to make the warp threads from ramie and approx. 40 days to make the weft threads that are required to make a roll of Yaeyama Jofu. It requires great patience, so recently increasing number of people are using ramie threads (not hand-spun) for the warp threads.


It is a known fact from the descriptions in the “Annals of the Joseon Dynasty” and other documents that people in Yaeyama have been producing fabrics using ramie since ancient times. High quality linen fabric was produced based on the drawing by a sponsored Eshi (painter) to be officially used by the Ryukyu royal government during the Ryukyu Kingdom period. The Satsuma domain invaded Ryukyu in 1609 and a poll tax was started so they started to dedicate Yaeyama Jofu to the government. Women on the island started to produce the fabrics and gradually the patterns became more refined under the supervision of the Ryukyu royal government. This is how the Yaeyama Jofu we see today was created. Yaeyama Jofu was a valuable fabric in those days and only a few people could wear it.

Production of Yaeyama Jofu started to develop as a regional industry since the poll tax was abolished in 1886. A loom called a Tanbata was invented at that time and more men became involved in the fabric production. An improved loom became available in the Taisho period (1912 – 1926) so that the fabric produced became of higher quality with accurate positioning of the Kasuri patterns since there was less irregularity in the tension of the threads. Currently, Okinawa Prefecture and Ishigaki City are united in building a business to cultivate successors to produce Yaeyama Jofu.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Producing threads from Chomo (ramie) First of all, the threads have to be made from ramie which is the raw material of Yaeyama Jofu. Ramie belongs to the Urticaceae family and it can be harvested 4 – 5 times a year. Ramie has to be carefully harvested so as not to harm the plant when they are about 1m tall. It is soaked in water for several hours to soften and peel the bark. The peeled bark is soaked in water again and the fiber inside the peeled bark is gently stripped off. The fiber is dried in the shade and then put back in water. The fiber is shredded using the nails of the right hand fingers to make thin threads. A firmer twist is given to the warp threads using a spinning wheel. The weft threads are hand-spun and given a firmer twist by hand.
  2. 2. Warping Planning the layout and design after considering the composition.
  3. 3. Kukuri in case of Kukurizome (tie-dye) There are two methods for making Kasuri threads. One is to print the threads using a brush and the other is to dye the threads by fastening the marked positions. If you use Nassen (print) method, you need to make a drawing for one side of the wooden frame. The frame refers to the Ayatsuburu and the warp threads are wound around the Ayatsuburu. The threads are divided into Kasuri threads and base threads in accordance with the drawing and the threads are sorted by length and the number of the threads. The threads are starched and put out to dry to prevent the Kasuri patterns becoming wrongly positioned or smeared. If you use Kukurizome, on the other hand, you have to mark the threads and fasten the marked positions with cotton strings or plastic strings. When the base color is dark, Kasuri pattern positions are fastened and the base color positions in the weft threads are also fastened. Once the threads are fastened, they are placed in hot water to remove starch from the places that do not require dyeing.
  4. 4. Dyeing The dye used for Yaeyama Jofu is taken mostly from the plants naturally grown in Yaeyama including Kuru (dye extracted from vines in Okinawa), Fukugi (happiness tree), Hirugi (mangrove), Soushiju (Acacia confusa) and Indigo.
    Kuru has to be peeled and grated before putting in boiling water. The water is strained to get the reddish brown dye. Soushiju is an evergreen in the pea family. The leaves are boiled to make dye which can produce multiple shades from ecru to vivid yellow. Indigo has to be soaked in water with branches still attached. The liquid is fermented to make the dye after processing the plant using, for example, lime. You need to lift the threads from an Indigo vat from time to time to expose them to air.
  5. 5. Winding around Ayatsuburu After the threads are dyed, the unfastened warp threads are stretched in accordance with the drawing and put through the Osa (reed). They are then wound around the Ayatsuburu (wooden frame) with thick paper in between so that the positions of the Kasuri patterns do not move.
  6. 6. Nassen method This is a method of dyeing introduced in order to start mass production after the poll tax was abolished. Kuru is grated and pressed and the extract is dried in the sun to make a condensed dye. The threads are dyed with the condensed Kuru dye using a bamboo brush. The calculated number of the weft threads are pulled over the drawing stand and marked with ink to make the standard threads. The threads are soaked in water and wound around a Pibiruyama (wooden frame made to match the fabric width). The threads are dyed using a bamboo brush when they are dry. The warp threads are dyed while they are wound around the Ayatsuburu. The threads are dried naturally while they are wound on the Ayatsuburu.
  7. 7. Jiibburu winding The base threads are wound around the Jiibburu after Kari-osa doshi (temporarily putting the threads through reed). A thick paper is used in between the Jiibburu and the base threads.
  8. 8. Weaving The dyed linen threads are set on a loom and woven making sure that the threads do not become dry. The weft threads are wound around tubes and set in the Hi (boat-shaped shuttle). Yaeyama-style Takabata (traditional Japanese treadle-operated tall loom) that has separate Ayatsuburu and Jiibburu is used for weaving Yaeyama Jofu. Pulling of the warp threads can be adjusted using weights so that the Kasuri patterns do not become out of position.
  9. 9. Umizarashi (leaving in seawater) When the fabric is woven, it is dried in the sun for about 10 days. The plant colors become more vivid when the fabric is dried in the sun.
    After the fabric has been dried in the sun, it is soaked in seawater for about 5 hours. This process removes impurities from the fabric and also makes the white color whiter so the Kasuri color settles better. This is a process specific to producing Yaeyama Jofu.
  10. 10. Pounding with a pestle The woven fabric is wrapped around a round piece of wood and a cotton cloth is wrapped above the woven fabric. The piece of wood with fabric is placed on the wooden stand and pounded with a pestle. This process improves the fabric texture and makes it feel better on one’s skin.

Where to Buy & More Information

Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum

Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum

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