First interview today with Nishimura Orimono weaving which was so interesting especially in comparison to being in Mexico where the cloth is all woven using either a peddle or a backstrap loom. As we sat in the car park waiting for our meeting with the president -Souichiro Nishimura, we suddenly realised the rhythmic clicking sounds in the distance was the sound of the machines working away in the building opposite. (We by the way are my apprentice Mariko and I, along with Marikos uncle who teaches at the technical college and also breeds silk worms)
The company, based in Daizaifu was formed in 1861 and Mr Nishimura is the 6th generation president of Nishimura weaving which employs around 40 people, 80% of whom are female. They also have another branch in Tokyo.
The origins of Hakata-ori can be traced back to 1235, when a young Hakata merchant named Mitsuta Yazaemon traveled to China with the monk Shoichi Kokushi. For six years, Kokushi studied Buddhism while Yazaemon learned a number of techniques, including manju (Chinese sweet bun) making, ceramics and textiles.
When the pair returned to Japan in 1241, Yazaemon passed on his skills to the people of Hakata, incorporating his own designs as he began a family business. 250 years later, his descendants visited China once more to study textile production in greater depth. They further modified the technique they had inherited, and Hakata-ori was born—a name combining its region of origin with the word Ori, or weaving.
The Hakata-ori production process passed down to the present day can largely be divided into five steps, with each step so complex that different craftspeople specialize in each one
Hakata-ori is characterized by fine, supple, thick material—qualities attained by using a number of thin warps and thick wefts made by twisting multiple thin yarns together. These two layers of yarn are woven together using a reed that creates a horizontal bump in the fabric, and the pattern is woven by bringing the warps to the surface. Touching the fabric for the first time I was surprised how silk can be so very thick until Mr Nishimura explained that it was 1,500 threads woven tightly together.
The solidity of this textile proved ideal for producing traditional Japanese sashes for the kimono. It was appreciated for its durability, as well as for its tendency to remain tight once fixed while still being easy to undo. It was highly sought by men who needed to hold the scabbards of their katana in place as they moved.
We began with some history behind the designs and traditional motifs and then our tour began with the design room where we were shown the computer programmes now used to create the designs which are then sent to be made into patterns. This was particularly fascinating to me as combining the hand techniques with modern technology design processes is light years away from the examples I have visited so far.
The reason I chose to visit Japan as the second part of my fellowship is because here there are the ancient Masters of Crafts and unique traditions combined with such efficient business sense and commitment ingrained in the Japanese spirit plus there is the resources and market all in one place. It is clear as soon as we walk in that every machine in Nishimura is working away, well greased, maintained and perfectly in time !
We then entered a different room which was a lot quieter and a man sat weaving who turned out to be one of the longest standing employees of the company and has worked in Nishimura for 60 years. The hand weave is exceptional and he showed us the gold thread he uses which is flat so his expertly trained eye has to spot any slight twist in the thread. His work is so very intricate, clearly the certificate of excellence he has received as a master craftsman is well deserved.
One of the interesting facts we learned is that the mouth of the silk work is triangular so if you magnify the thread you will see it is triangle shaped hence why silk is so shiny.
We finished the tour in the showroom where a range of products demonstates the variety of uses for Hakata Ori, most popular of all is of course the belt for the kimono.
The slogan of Nishimura is 語り継がれるものづくり which translates as ‘Make our product to pass down for the next generation’.