Nishijin Brocade

February 5, 2018

by Motonari Iwamoto, Kana Kobashi & Kensuke Nagai

Nishijin Brocade is one of the traditional crafts in Kyoto.  Traditional crafts are disappearing year by year in Japan.  We have to protect traditions and pass them on to the next generation.  However, some traditional crafts are changing with the times. It is important to keep traditions, but sometimes it is not enough.  If the traditions change and evolve, people will pay attention to them and will want to know their history.  Therefore, we researched Nishijin Brocade and thought about its future.

Nishijin Brocade is a general term for Sakizome – or dyed textile goods – created in a certain region of Kyoto. Sakizome refers to the prior dying of the threads before the cloth is actually woven.  There are many different types of these textiles produced in small quantities.  Nishijin Brocade has been designated as a national traditional craft since 1976.  There are many kinds of Nishijin Brocade and they are all beautiful and produced delicately.  So, it is used in many products like Noh costume, a long outer garment, obi (traditional sash), underwear, neckties, and so on.  The name ‘Nishijin’ comes from the area of the city where the brocade was produced and traded.  It is in the northwest section of Kyoto.

History of Nishijin Brocade

As the Onin War (1467-1477), which split Japan into two parts, ended in the Muromachi era, textile craftmen who were spread out across the country returned to Kyoto.  The production of textile was resumed around this area, where it used to be a territory occupied by a western military troop led by Sozen Yamana during the War.  The textile town prospered before the war, an area known today as the northern west part of Kyoto, which had started being called Nishijin around that time.  The name of Nishi (west) – Jin (territory) was derived from the territory of the western military troop.  The site of residence that was owned by Sozen still remains at Itsutsuji-iru, Horikawa-dori in Kamogyo-ward.

Nishijin Brocade Types

There are 12 kinds of brocade that have been designated in Japan, and there are three different weaving machines to produce them. Now we will introduce some types of Nishijn Brocade.

The first is Tsuzure.  In this type, the weft is three to five times thicker than the warp, where the weft wraps around the warp.  So, the warp does not appear on the surface of it.  This way of weaving involves many small techniques, so it takes long time to finish.  The oldest it in world was made in 1580 B.C., around the same time as the 17th Egyptian dynasty period. In Japan, Sehei Izutsuya was the first person to weave it in the Edo period in Nishijin.

The second is Nukinishiki.  It is a general term of brocade that is woven with several threads and it is used to make gorgeous brocades.  Many of Nishiki brocades use Enuki that weft needs surface of the pattern. Nukinishiki represent most of brocade.  It has longest history of Japanese brocade weaves.  Its origin isn’t known for certain, but it said to have been woven from more than 1,200 years ago.

The third type is called Kasuri-ori.  It is created with some patterns by the warp and weft are resist printing in some designs.  There is the brocade of the satin weaving.  It represents a simple weaving.  At first, it began in India and then it arrived in Thailand, Burma, Java, Sumatra, Okinawa and finally to Japan.

There are five stages to the production of Nishijin Brocade.  The first is the planning. Producers think of the design and then decide on the pattern that how to make it with which colors.  The second stage is the preparation of the materials yarn sellers in white silk and dyers prepare them.  Nishijin brocades are weaved silk yarn of high quality. The third state is weaving.  Representative Nishiki-ori and Kara-ori are weaved by jacquard loom. Jacquard loom was invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1804.  In the old days, producers used Sorabikibata. They weaved Nishijin Brocades two people, so they can’t produce many products.  However, they began using jacquard loom, they can produce many products.  The final stage is that products are given a certificate stamp issued by the Nishijin Brocade Industrial Association.  It indicates the number of producers, kind of obi material, and structure of the fiber used.

Presence and Future of Nishiijin Brocade

In the past, the designs were drawn by hand, but today they are done on the computer.  As it became digitalized, making corrections became easier, but a lot of the work is still manual labor.  Recently, with the assistance of big designer names such as Dior, Chanel and Louis Vuitton, the industry is starting to focus on expanding abroad as well.  The new Nishijin strategy is to create interior designs, shawls, and bags.  As the number of foreigner visitors has increased recently, many wear kimono, and in order to adapt to this, producers started making foreign sizes as well.

There is a technique of knitting, which is a very complex structure, and this technique is weaving from a thick thread into a fine thread.  The complexity of building this technique will probably be close to the top in the world.  In addition, this technique is used on space projects.

We knew about Nishijin Brocade from before, but we made sense to be throughout this research.  It is used in many products, so recently many foreign people are interested in it.   Also, Japanese young people pay attention to it because the industry is now collaborating with some famous brands.  Time moves on, so traditional crafts have to evolve with time.  And we have to study about it and tell next generation from now.  If we and traditional industry do that, traditional crafts won’t disappear and they will keep their history.  Won’t you help to protect our traditions with us?