NIIGATA prefecture also called ECHIGO is located in the middle of the archipelago on the Japan Sea side having heavy snow during winter season.
Weaving is very popular there so that the prefecture has 2nd largest population in that industry next to KYOTO.
Well known KIMONOs such as ECHIGO-JŌFU (越後上布), OJIYA-CHIJIMI (小千谷縮), SHIOZAWA-TSUMUGI (塩沢紬) and TŌKAMATCHI-KASURI (十日町絣) are produced in this region.
This time, I will like to focus on ECHIGO-JŌFU and OJIYA-CHIJIMI which are worn in mid-summer.
They are using high quality linen cloth, that’s why it is called “JŌFU’ (上布) meaning “cloth upper than silk”.
A hempen thread gets very fragile when it is dry, so the humid air during winter in this region is suitable for weaving linen KIMONO. (Still, the producers are very careful of room humidity control.)
Summer KIMONOs are made in winter country, sounds bit strange doesn’t it?
In old days, they were using “YAMASO” (山苧), ramies of herbaceous perennial which grow naturally in mountains, however since when the products become famous, they have started using field-grown ramies giving it to a name of “AOSO” (青苧).
Linen cloth is now fashionable summer material and its KIMONO is very expensive, but originally it was regarded just as white and resilient cloth in deep-snow ECHIGO, and used for KIMONOs worn throughout the year.
It was convenient for overlap-type KIMONO and to make it quitted to survive the cold weather.
By arranging this linen cloth, OJIYA-CHIJIMI was invented.
“CHIJIMI” means a crape and the system of the shrunk cloth is:
- By giving weft yarns a firmer twist and fixing them by starch.
- After weaving the twisted yarns, by rubbing them in lukewarm water, the starch goes away and the twists come lose.
- Then the linen cloth shrinks.
Thanks to MASATOSHI HORIJIRO who invented this technique 340 years ago, this product spread all over the country.
With the wrinkles, the linen cloth becomes crispier so that it doesn’t stick to skins even when getting sweat, the coolness is fabulous!
It is the best cloth for hot and humid Japanese summer.
Linen cloths like ECHIGO-JŌFU or OJIYA-CHIJIMI are exposed to sun-light on the snow called “YUKI-SARASHI” (雪晒し) for a week in the final process.
As the ozone generated over the snow has sterilizing and breaching effects so that the cloths become white like snow and stronger making the color of KASURI stable.
This is a “summer feature in the winter of ECHIGO” which has continued since EDO period.
Linen KIMONOs which fade or get stained by the ravages of time can recover its original color by this YUKI-SARASHI.
Last year, one of my customers called me saying that she got so disturbed.
When she opened her chest for the first time in a while, she found her ECHIGO-JŌFU covered by scattered big yellow stains.
When I saw that, it was indeed very miserable not possible to wear while it is very valuable product.
It surprised me so much that I immediately contacted the producer and asked how to address it. Then he said “it will be fine with YUKI-SARASHI”.
At that time, I was quite skeptical as I knew how bad the condition was, but anyway sent the KIMONO to the producer and waited patiently as the treatment must be done waiting for winter season.
After all that waiting time, the ECHIGO-JŌFU totally breached and recovered was sent back from the producer, which obviously made me very happy and informed my client right away.
She was also very satisfied saying “unbelievable!”, yes, the technique is really just great!!
ECHIGO-JŌFU and OJIYA-CHIJIMI are designated as Important Intangible Cultural Property of Japan and I agree with the values as each process is made manually and weaving is done by matching the patterns of KASURI one by one by “JIBATA” (地機), an old weaving machine, all these excellent techniques are inherited generation by generation.