About Nishijin-ori: a Kyoto Textile

Zusetsu is an online furoshiki store where you can get quality furoshiki from Kyoto, Japan. However, did you know that we also have a range of other pretty Kyoto gifts, including our beautiful Nishijin-ori pouches, wallets, and card cases?

Kyoto Pouch - Pale Blue White Hare

Our Kyoto Pouches are perfect for carrying small items, such as make-up; bracelets and necklaces; or a notepad and pens.

Kyoto Card Case - Plum Blossom (left), Kyoto Card Case - Peach Gold Pink Lilac Blossom (right) Our Kyoto Card Cases are perfect for carrying small items like cards, coins or keys!

Kyoto Wallet - Blue Brown Lilac Blossom Our Kyoto wallets are the perfect packaging for special invitations, tickets, or gift vouchers x Nishijin-ori is a unique textile from Kyoto, and as you can see the colours and patterns are ever so pretty. So, what exactly makes Nishijin-ori different from other fabrics? And what is the historical significance of this craft? In today's blog we want to explore these questions. Let's start off by taking you through our experience in Kyoto, and how we met the amazing artisans of this precious Kyoto textile.

Our Nishijin-ori Journey in Kyoto

We visited Kamiya-san in his office, just outside Kyoto, last October. We were able to sift through boxes of beautiful products to find the items that we are now presenting in our store. Ladies sat nearby smiling, and packaging up the items on tatami flooring. I must stress, that our items are affordable beacause they are made from man-made materials, not silk, but Kamiya-san is committed to making beautiful, high quality Nishijin-ori items. I was there with Yukki’s friend, Mai, who kindly translated for me. Later, on impulse, she took me to visit her uncle, who is a very special weaver indeed.

Kitamura Takeshi is a Japanese National Treasure – he is a very highly regarded craftsman in Japan, whose exquisite work features in our own Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He has been weaving in Nishijin since his teens – and ingeniously recreated the ancient ra-weave – which he described to us as being like the wings of a cicada. It’s an elegant, translucent fabric. We were extremely honoured to be able to watch him on his own personal loom, weaving in the rear of his machiya-style workshop. We were able to step into the nishijin-ori workshop, and watch artisans weaving with single strands of golden thread. The experience has left a big impression on me!

Weaving in Nishijin, Kyoto


Nowadays, you can walk through the Nishijin area and still hear the looms: the area has echoed with this evocative sound for over 1200 years.

What is Nishijin-ori?

According to the Nishijin Textile Association, the Nishijin textile is a general term for sakizome (the dyeing of the thread before the textile is woven) for figured cloth produced in or near to the Nishijin area of Kyoto. It has been designated as a national traditional craft.

Dyed yarns are woven with golden threads to create shimmering, intricate brocade: this is called kinran, introduced from China in the 16th century. It is a very specialised process, and produces a material of an extremely high quality. The obi sashes that are woven are considered to be the most beautiful in Japan, and while expensive, one is considered enough to last a lifetime. Different methods of weaving are used to create the many variations of textiles, but generally either mon-ori (weaving using vertical and horizontal threads), or tsuzure-ori are used. Tsuzure ori is an extraordinary process of Kyoto weaving, whereby the weaver’s nails are shaped like the teeth of a saw, in order to fix the threads into the design!

Yukki and I are very much hoping to visit a tsuzure-ori weaver on our next visit to Kyoto :)

Kyoto Pouch - Ecru Pink Gold Flower (left), Kyoto Card Case - Red (right) We like to use our Nishijin-ori items when we travel! In the left, Yukki and Cally went to see the ballet in St. Petersburg. On the right, they used the card case to keep their loose euros on a trip to Lisbon.

The History of Nishijin-Ori

Nishijin is a small area to the west of the Kyoto Imperial Palace, which historically provided beautiful and elaborate woven textiles to the Kyoto Imperial court: the Imperial family, the aristocracy, and the court officials. Quality fabrics were woven such as ra and sha (fine silk gauze), aya (figured twill), kome ori (a kind of gauze) and nishiki (brocade).These beautiful textiles, which are used to create elaborate kimono, obi, and Noh costumes, have been woven since the founding of Kyoto as the capital city of Japan in 794. The Heian court loved the intricate fabrics so much, they occasionally used the same textile patterns to cover special books.

'The Snow in Nishijin', Junichiro Sekino

Below we have added a very insightful portion from Nishijin-ori by the Kyoto University of Foreign Studies:

‘While Nishijin-ori‘s origin lie in Kyoto, its beginnings are specifically linked to the Yasushi family, who emigrated to Kyoto from China around the 5th to 6th century, and introduced how to make silk textiles to the local people.


By the 8th century, the royal court had created an official branch to supervise the textile artists, and their production. In other words, this w


as a government owned and operated industry. These artists used to live together around Chouza machi, Kamigyo ku, Kyoto, which later on became a textile city.


Between 1467 and 1477, during the Onin war, Kyoto suffered a long period of civil war between the East and the West, and many artists fled Kyoto. As a result, the whole industry was almost extinguished.

Though the demand for these products dwindled in the 15th century, it regained popularity soon after the war ended, and the art of weaving began to thrive once again. The textile industry was revived in the area of Imagawa, Omiya. The growing weaving community supplied materials for products commissioned by the Imperial Palace and samurai lords. As these products were almost exclusively commissioned by aristocratic figures, the community was rewarded generously. This increased productivity, leading to the development and refining of new procedures to create newer, more intricate designs, such as the use of the gold brocade and Damask silk that originated in China, during the Ming Dynasty. The literal translation of “Nishiji” is “the West position”, referring to the area in which many Kyoto residents returned home after the war ended, in 1480.


However, the art of Nishijin faced another crisis in 1837, as there was an abrupt stop in trade due to the unavailability of materials due to crop failures. Kyoto as a whole faced hard times, and when the new capital of Japan was announced to be Tokyo, this was thought to be the end of the Nishijin era. Thankfully, the art was brought back to life nearly half a century later, after the Japanese travelled to Europe and learned new weaving techniques (such as the Jacquard loom and the flying shuttle), later incorporating them into their own traditional techniques. By the end of the 19th century, the Nishijin textile trade was well-developed and possessed technology shared by the Europeans. This also marked the beginning of the use of machinery in Japanese trade.

Today, Nishijin weaving is seen more frequently in Japanese ceremonies, most prominently in traditional Japanese weddings. It can be seen specifically on the bride’s kimono, which have usually been handed down from many generations. These designs typically range from scenes of nature, different breeds of birds, and several different types of flowers. Taking into account its rich history, it is unsurprising that the intricate art of Nishijin weaving still thrives even to this day. Commissioning or purchasing an item of Nishijin origin is expensive, and only those of great affluence are able to afford them.’ [1.]


Did you learn something new?

Our pouches, wallets and coin cases spring from the incredibly rich textile history of Kyoto, which of course includes furoshiki, and washi paper too (as many of the textile designs were replicated in washi). Here at Zusetsu, our aim is to support these fascinating and historically rich artisan skills, and give you the opportunity to experience the immense beauty too!

If you found this blog interesting, we recommend checking our other posts: The History of Furoshiki About Kyoto Washi Paper

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading our blog – we would love to know your thoughts, too!

Sources

'The Snow in Nishijin', Junichiro Sekino: www.artelino.com/archive/ukiyoe_archive


1. Nishijin-ori by Genki Ueno & Sakoda Shumpei, (Kyoto University of Foreign Studies), 17 May 2019. http://thekyotoproject.org/english/nishijin-ori/


Nishijin-ori, The Cultural Foundation for Promoting the National Costume of Japan

http://www.kimono.or.jp/dictionary/eng/nishijinori.html

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Zusetsu - An English company passionate about contemporary textiles originating from the traditional, creative heritage of Kyoto.

Registered office address: Zusetsu Ltd., Castle Nurseries, Chipping Campden, Glos., GL55 6JT United Kingdom

Company Number: 11806597. VAT Number: GB 315 9298 79. Copyright Zusetsu Ltd., 2020.