Sunday, January 25, 2015

Maiwai - Traditional Craft Of Chiba Prefecture

"Ten thousand blessings"
the meaning 
of the word "maiwai"

Several maiwai (festive kimonos to celebrate a good catch) on display at Suzusen.

The fishing industry has long flourished along the coast of Bōsō Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture. During the Edo period (1603 - 1868), the culture of "maiwai" (万祝), a term that refers to festive kimonos to celebrate a successful catch, developed among the fishermen who lived by the sea in this area. It is originally from Bōsō Peninsula area and thereafter spread to the Pacific coast from Aomori Prefecture to Shizuoka Prefecture. In 1997, maiwai was made the "Designated Traditional Craft Product of Chiba Prefecture".

Originally, maiwai was only meant to celebrate a good catch, but over time, the significance of this item has developed to more than that - maiwai has came to mean a Japanese traditional garment or kimonos that ship owners would distribute to fishermen for celebration of an especially good catch. However, the term "maiwai" actually doesn't refer to the kimonos, but the cloths that was distributed. The fisherman's wife will then use this cloths and turn them into long or short kimonos. Eventually, everyone would wear the same kimono for the celebration.

A good quality maiwai like this could fetch up to 400,000 yen (approximately RM12,000).

Bottles of colourful dye which will be mixed with squeezed soybean juice.

These paints are ready to be used to be applied on the textile.

According to literature, there seems to already have been a custom of making maiwai around 1800, but then in the 1950s and 1960s the practice of distributing and wearing maiwai at times of a good catch died out. As times changed, the reward for a good catch shifted to more practical items, such as jumpers, and cash bonuses. 

One of the main attractions of maiwai, is that the patterns of the maiwai are usually drawn on the back and lower part. The family crest, ship's insignia, and ship's name are put on the back, and such things as auspicious motifs, like a crane and tortoise, pine tree, or treasure boat, or the fish that was caught in abundance are drawn on the bottom. In coloring, you mix squeezed soybean juice into five primary colors and then apply each color using a paint brush. A three-dimensional sense is created by shading off the borders between the colors to add gradation. When the fishermen wore the maiwai dyed in this way, the patterns drawn on the back and lower part stood out strongly, so they were able to boast to people around them of their bountiful catch. This masculine splendor is probably the main attraction of maiwai.

Suzuki-san explaining to us a brief history of maiwai.

Looks like somebody is more busy taking photos than listening to Suzuki-san hahaha! (photo credit: Tooru Ishikawa).

Suzuki-san showing us how to paint the textile the correct way.

"So, this is how you do it..."

Time for the Chiba Kun Ambassadors to paint their maiwai (photo credit: Tooru Ishikawa).

There are several designs that are typically used on maiwai that symbolise good luck, such as crane, turtle and treasure boat. The maiwai design is divided into dorsal and lumbar types; dorsal types are often designed such that homes, ships, or ship names are drawn with a crane printed in the background. On the other hand, lumbar types have drawings such as fishing scenery, figures relating to the sea such as Urashima Taro, and treasure boats or objects that symbolizes good luck such as takasago and sambaso. These beautiful motifs are each individually hand-drawn at the back of the costume and later dyed in striking vivid colours, which become the main characteristics of maiwai.

In general, the working process of maiwai can be summarised as the following: draw the design. Then cut out the paper stencils, which is made by mino paper (美濃紙) and coated with persimmon tannin. Then the original paste is made from glutinous rice, rice bran, lime, salt and soybean and spread on the stencils. The colours, such as ultramarine, Prussian blue, rouge, cinnabar, Indian ink, indigo and whitewash, are made from pigments and fluid obtained by filtering soybean soaked overnight and crushed. Then, the design on the texture are painted and the paste are spread on the paintings to protect the design from indigo-dyeing. Ground dyeing followed and the paste are washed away. The final steps are drying the textile and tailoring the cloth into maiwai.

The 3 types of motifs that we get to choose from.

I chose the sea bream or golden-eye tai (kinmedai; 金目鯛) motif.

The 4 Chiba Kun Ambassadors couldn't wait to start painting! (photo credit: Tooru Ishikawa).

Late last year, the Chiba Kun Ambassadors tour took us to visit Maiwai Suzusen (万祝鈴染) workshop in Kamogawa to experience the method of maiwai-making. The maiwai dye technique has continued from the Edo period in the Kamogawa area. The founder is Kokichi Suzuki who was taught by Katsutaro Yamada. The technique was then inherited by second generation Eiji followed by third generation Kosuke.

Handing down skills from generation to generation still plays an important role in many of Japan's traditional crafts and professions. Kosuke Suzuki owns a traditional tailoring shop called Suzusen. Born in Kamogawa, Chiba Prefecture in 1954, Suzuki-san was a graduate from the Faculty of Science and Technology at the Tokyo University of Science. Growing up watching his grandfather and father engaged in dyeing had deepen his interest on the masculine flamboyance of the maiwai, like the Edo-period firefighters' costumes. He gradually felt like wanting to do the dyeing himself, so upon graduating from university, Suzuki-san decided to devote himself to continuing the family business.

Super concentrated hahaha! So, basically we used paint brushes to apply different colours of our choice
inside the contours formed by the paste (photo credit: Tooru Ishikawa).

However, there is always a moment to take photos *hehehe*

Here's my completed painting. The brownish thingy are paste with pigments dissolved in soybean juice.

  Suzuki-san explaining to us the final steps after we finished our painting, which is to remove the paste from the cloth.

Once the cloth is left to soak inside a bucket of lukewarm water for a day, the paste will come off and here is the final result. What do you think?

Suzuki-san's grandfather trained in a dyeing factory that had continued since the Edo period and then founded the Suzuki Somemonoten (鈴木染物店) in 1925. Almost all of the old materials had been lost at the time of the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, but the dyeing technique was unfailingly handed down from his grandfather to his father and then to him. Now, his son Riki takes the lead in inheriting the maiwai dyeing technique as the fourth-generation owner of Suzusen. They are also making efforts to transmit the method to the next generation by holding dyeing workshops for local students and others in their studio and museum since about 15 years ago. 

In his workshop, Suzuki-san, who represents the third generation owner of the family business specialising in maiwai dyeing, teaches his son Riki and daughter Mami the technique of making the maiwai style of kimono that fishermen wear when they celebrate a great catch. He is also assisted by his wife Kayoko and mother Teruko in running the maiwai center in the heart of Kamogawa city.

  We were also taught how to fold origami into maiwai shapes.

Some of us trying out the maiwai at the workshop.

Happy faces of the Chiba Kun Ambassadors who got to have a test wear on the maiwai (photo credit: Tooru Ishikawa).

In order to master the dyeing technique, it takes around 10 years before a person are able to do the whole procedure, as there are 12 processes involved in preparing a single cloth, such as compiling the pattern on paper, coloring, and ground dyeing. The demand for maiwai is declining, but when Suzuki-san sees people happily wearing kimono that he has made or carefully displaying kimonos that he have helped repair or reproduce in their museums or somewhere, he feels glad that he chose to become a craftsman.

So far, Suzuki-san has only been involved in making long or short kimonos, but now he is also applying the maiwai technique for making more familiar items, such as aloha shirts, hats, and bags. In the future, he would like to see these products become popular among foreigners.

One happy family photo with Suzuki-san and the Chiba Kun Ambassadors (photo credit: Tooru Ishikawa).

Maiwai Suzusen (鴨川萬祝染 鈴染)
Address: 620-1 Yokosuka, Kamogawa-shi, Chiba Prefecture, 296-0001 Japan (千葉県鴨川市横渚620-1)
Opening Hours: 07:00 - 19:00
Course: 1,500 yen & 3,500 yen (reservation is required 7 days prior to visit)
Tel/Fax: 04-7092-1531
Access: Train: From JR Tokyo Station (JR東京駅) on JR Limited Express Wakashio & JR Sotobo Line (JR特急わかしお・JR外房線) to JR Awa-Kamogawa Station (JR安房鴨川駅), walk for approximately 10 minutes.
Car: From Tokyo Bay Aqualine (東京湾アクアライン) to Tateyama Expressway Kisarazu-minami Interchange (館山自動車道木更津南) to Bōsō Skyline (房総スカイライン) to Kamogawa Toll Road (鴨川有料道路).
Bus: Board the Akusi (アクシー号) bus from JR Tokyo Station Yaesu Exit (in front of Fuji Bank) (JR東京駅八重洲口富士銀行前) (bus schedule here - Japanese only); journey takes approximately 2 hours and alight at Kamogawa-eki Nishi-guchi (鴨川駅西口); walk for approximately 12 minutes.

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