Searching all of Japan for handcrafted items that express its heart and soul, our proprietor, KASHIYUKA, presents things that bring a bit of luxury to everyday life. This time she visits a factory in Tsukidate-machi, Fukushima prefecture, where a modern weave known as sashiko-ori is made, and she meets the one artisan in all of Japan who is making it.
Sashiko-ori, a traditional craft of the northern Tohoku region of Japan, is made on specialized machinery. Kenichi Ohazama is currently Japan’s sole artisan making it, and our shopkeeper, KASHIYUKA, is fascinated by the spectacle of thousands of strands attached to the machines in his workshop. “It feels like being inside a grand piano,” she says.
I find traditional Japanese design to be so modern. It comes off as cute, but a certain sharpness underlies it, and there are often places where colors of old connect with today’s looks. I’ve discovered this in my purchasing encounters with traditional handcrafts across Japan. On this visit to Fukushima, seeing sashiko-ori proved the same. To think that designs from decades ago could appear so modern and sophisticated thrills my heart.
Purchase No. 7 [SASHIKO-ORI] Modern textile from a vintage loom, a wrapping cloth of sashiko-ori.
The sashiko of sashiko-ori is a traditional Tohoku handcraft developed out of necessity ages ago, involving a fine, detailed threading pattern woven into and connecting cotton or hemp fabrics to increase their strength and warmth. Sashiko-ori, however, is crafted on a traditional loom. It’s by means of the placement of a third strand between the warp and weft, known as the “stitch strand”, that a distinct pattern emerges in the weaving process. Mr. Kenichi Ohazama is currently the only artisan in Japan making textiles using this process, for which a single meter requires an hour of production. He’s a veteran artisan, the fourth generation of his family to pursue the craft of sashiko-ori. At age 19 he was mentored by Yoshitaka Yanagi, renowned weaving master and leading proponent of the early 20th-century Mingei folkcraft movement.
Depicting cherry blossoms, following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. This is in the image of the Miharutaki Sakura in Fukushima – one of Japan’s most famous cherry trees, it’s said to be over 1000 years old.
The regular sounds and movements make for a pleasing ambience.
In his spacious studio, where there are as many as 10 functioning machines, including a sturdy Jacquard loom and threading machines from the 50s, he appears to handle everything himself, from spooling to setting the strands, to the weaving, and naturally, the servicing of the machines. “I can sense the condition of the machine simply from the sound of the weaving – I can hear it in the very warp and weft,” Mr. Ohazama declares, with an air of confidence born of long experience.