Hakata-ori is a type of silk fabric produced in the prefectures of Fukuoka and Saga in Kyushu. It is a strong and sturdy textile made by driving thick weft threads into numerous warp threads so that the warp threads are densely packed and tightly woven. This ensures the fabric is not easily damaged even when pulled under considerable force. The density of the warp threads also creates friction to prevent the fabric from growing slack, making it an immensely popular material for “obi” (kimono sashes). Hakata-ori is designated as a traditional Japanese craft by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
The History of Hakata-ori
Hakata-ori has a long history stretching all the way back to the Kamakura period (1185 - 1333). It is said to have originated with Yazaemon Mitsuta, a merchant from Hakata. After traveling to China, he learned textile-making and brought the technique back to Japan. Approximately 250 years later, Hikosaburo Mitsuta, a descendant of Yazaemon, again journeyed to China to learn more about its textile-making technology. Upon returning to Japan, he shared his knowledge with father and son Tobei and Iemon Takewaka, and collaborated with them to conduct more research and make improvements. The result was a thick textile adorned with patterns, which became the roots of today's Hakata-ori.
During the Edo period (1603 - 1868), Nagamasa Kuroda, the first lord of the Chikuzen Domain (current western Fukuoka Prefecture), took an interest in Hakata-ori. He was won over by its charm and presented it to the shogunate government as an offering. The patterns on the textiles presented to the shogunate came to be called "kenjogara" (lit. pattern of presented gift) and Hakata-ori was thus referred to as "Kenjo Hakata." Hakata-ori became even more popular across the country when the kabuki actor, Danjuro VII Ichikawa, appeared in plays wearing costumes made of Hakata-ori.
While Japan was largely shut off from the world during the Edo period, once political power was transferred from the samurai to the Emperor in the Meiji period (1868 - 1912), it aggressively began to import Western culture and underwent a period of rapid modernization and Westernization. While the demand for kimono decreased as Western-style clothing became popular, the implementation of Jacquard machines brought dramatic technological innovations in the textile industry. The Jacquard machine is an automated loom developed in France which led to significantly improved production efficiency and variety. Up until this time, production was focused primarily on men’s kimono sashes, however, with technological advancements, a wide variety of products, ranging from sashes for women to ties and curtains, began to be produced. Hakata-ori became widely popular and is still considered to be one of Japan's foremost textiles. Today, Hakata-ori makers produce a wider variety of items such as wallets and ties so that more people can experience its appeal.
The Characteristics of Hakata-ori
Hakata-ori is distinguished by its strength and flexibility. The Kenjo Hakata patterns that were used in textiles presented as gifts to the Edo shogunate have been handed down for over 400 years to this day.
The Kenjo Hakata patterns are based upon tools used in Buddhist ceremonies. Common patterns include "hanazara", which are containers for flowers used at Buddhist memorial services, along with "dokko" (pictured above), an implement that is said to crush worldly desires, the patterns of which represent the wish to ward off evil and for peace and prosperity in the household.
In 1976, Hakata-ori was designated as a traditional Japanese craft by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. While the production volume of Hakata-ori has declined since peaking in 1975, the industry has been revitalizing itself through various innovations, including the development of products more suited to the modern lifestyle such as ties and wallets.
In 1971, Zenzaburo Ogawa was recognized as an Important Intangible Cultural Asset "Kenjo Hakata-ori" Craftsman (National Living Treasure), while his son Kisaburo was recognized in the same manner in 2003. Hakata-ori is today considered one of the pinnacles of traditional Japanese crafts.
OKANO Hire Cool (Rose)
This is a beautiful 100% silk rose-colored shawl by OKANO, a well-established Hakata-ori manufacturer in operation since 1897. The silk blocks up to 99.9% of the sun's UV rays to protect the skin and has undergone cool touch processing to make it comfortable to wear outside. In addition, it is treated with a process called "hyper guard" so that it can be hand-washed at home. A wonderful product for those who want to wear something to elevate their fashion.
Eriyui Necktie Sairo-Asanoha (Blue)
As with the product above, this tie is made by OKANO and is hand sewn using the highest quality fabric with Hakata-ori techniques. The pattern, known as "Sairo Asanoha," was created by the world-famous Katsushika Hokusai, a famous ukiyo-e artist. "Asanoha" refers to hemp leaves and symbolizes healthy growth and a charm against evil, while "sairo" is a bamboo basket representing abundant harvest and plentiful food.
This high-quality tie was selected as a gift to ministers of major countries attending the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting held in Fukuoka in June 2019. It is the perfect tie to impress at important business events and fashionable parties.
If you want to give feedback on any of our articles, you have an idea that you'd really like to see come to life, or you just have a question on Japan, hit us up on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!
*These products may not be able to be shipped to certain countries. Please see the retailer's website for more information.
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.
Title image: OKANO