Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Making Handkerchief With Choshi's Chijimi

"It is hard to mary into a family 
for a girl who cannot weave"
the early stage
of the Edo period

Choshi famous chijimi,  made into various kinds of products.

Chiba Prefecture has designated 168 different traditional craftworks of the prefecture. These include items such as maiwai-shiki tairyo hata (special flags used to celebrate a good catch), which are famous nationwide. Various efforts are taken to preserve these traditions, and Chiba's traditional handicrafts are now being handed down to fourth and fifth generations, while at the same time incorporating fresh ideas of a new age as well.

Our next stop was experiencing the method in making one of Choshi's famous craftwork - chijimi (ちぢみ). No, it is not the Korean pancake, but a stripped cotton crêpe, with pre-dyed threads, tough and neat. This light, thin fabric with a wrinkled surface fabric has its weft thread twined and hence, is five times stronger than ordinary thread.

Choshi famous Chijimi Traditional Crafts Center.

 Choshi chijimi is designated the intangible cultural assets by the government of Chiba Prefecture.

 The Chiba Kun Ambassadors were first shown a ten-minute video, about the history and the process of making the fabric.

 Today, we will be making handkerchief.

And this is our sensei who started with some introduction about chijimi (photo credit: Ayako Uchiyama).

 Our sensei showing us samples of Choshi chijimi.

 The bottom roll is the final product, where you can see the fabric has shrunk significantly (about two-third) from the initial stage (top).

 The materials for handkerchief making - a piece of white chijimi cloth, a chopstick and three rubber bands.

"Here is how you are supposed to tie your cloth!" (photo credit: Masataka Ishizaki)

Listening attentively to the instruction like a primary school kid lol! (photo credit: Masataka Ishizaki)

 The first step of the process is done. Now, it is ready to be dyed.

In the early stage of the Edo period, a traditional fine fibre called "Choshi Chijimi" was being woven in and around the district of Choshi, a fishery town in the easternmost region of Chiba Prefecture. During its golden age, there were about 50 weaving shops together with more than 100 subsidiary workers. In the neighbourhood then, there was a prevailing rumours which says that, "it is hard to marry into a family for a girl who cannot weave."

This fabric was loved by many men of fashion and refined tastes in those days. Baisuiin Chobei, a famous figure, known as the "knight of the town", was also one of those who loved kimono made of Choshi chijimi, winning public admiration throughout the town of Edo. 

 The huge barrels containing the dye, which is made of a plant called ai(Persicaria_tinctoria) ().

Counting down. One... two... three... ... ... ... ... twenty... ... ... ... ... fifty... ... ... ... ninety-nine... (photo credit: Ayako Uchiyama).

My handkerchief, which has been soaked with love lol!

Ai, which also means "love" (愛) in Japanese, is a species of flowering plant in the buckwheat family. Common names include Chinese indigo. It is native to Eastern Europe and Asia and the leaves were a source of indigo dye. It was already in use in the Western Zhou period (ca. 1045-771 B.C.), and was the most important blue dye in East Asia until the arrival of Indigofera from the south.

In Japan, ai is mainly produced commercially in Tokushima in Shikoku. However, as this plant only grows in the summer, the leaves are dried and made into balls. These balls are diluted with water when they are to be used as dye during the making of chijimi. The initial colour is yellowish green, but due to the chemical reaction (oxidation) with the air, the colour will turn indigo eventually.

After soaking in the dye for sometime, the last steps were to dip the cloth in a mixture of vinegar and water, and finally rinse it with plain water. 
Weird facial expressions due to the vinegar water which was really cold! (photo credit: Ayako Uchiyama).

Tada! Our Japanese version of batik hahaha!

After soaking in the dye for several times (approximately one minute per time), we dipped the handkerchief in vinegar water and finally washed them. 

The last process is drying them in front of the heater (photo credit: Ayako Uchiyama).

I am not a big fan of handkerchief, but this is indeed a great experience!

Doesn't it resemble Mount Fuji?

It was a pity that manufacture of this fabric had become extinct for a pretty long period of time. Fortunately, however, this valuable fabric has been revived owing to the great efforts made by Tokoyoda family of Choshi ever since the memorable year of 1953. Today, it is designated the intangible cultural assets by the government of Chiba Prefecture.

At present, the weaving of Choshi chijimi is being well-managed in spite of many difficulties through the incessant labour of both Mr Toyokoda himself and his son under the warm encouragement from the national, prefectural and municipal authorities concerned alike. All the local people are particularly supporting them vigourously, as they believe it is their responsibility to protect the cultural assets of their town. 


Rolls of Choshi chijimi with various beautiful motifs. 

T-shirts and scarf.

Japanese traditional fans.


And not forgetting, small cute decorative items, such as this key-chain.   

The process of weaving Choshi chijimi begins with making arrangement of cotton threads that run crosswise, twisted as firmly as possible, prepared in two types, one being S-shaped and the other Z-shaped respectively. Then weaving is started by making each of the two types of threads run through alternately, from one side and the other by turns. 

Finally, when weaving is completed, put the cloth into hot water, rubbing it there, and you will find fine wave-like unevenness appearing on the surface of the cloth, which is formed due to the elastic force originating from the mutual repulsion of the different type of thread occuring as it untwists. This is what we call "shibo-dashi" (しぼ出し) and it is the most striking feature of the fabric. By the way, Choshi chijimi is well-known as a very strong, yet very soft cloth.

Choshi Chijimi Traditional Crafts Center (銚子ちぢみ伝統工芸館)
Opening hours: 09:00 - 17:00
Price: 1,575 yen (handkerchief making)
Price ranges according to items. Please contact directly for details.
Tel: 0479-22-2103     Fax: 0479-22-2032
Parking: Available
: 3-228, Matsugishi-machi, Choshi-shi, Chiba Prefecture, 288-0836, Japan.

: Train: From JR Matsugishi station (JR 松木市駅), 5 minutes (350m) by foot.

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