According to one theory, Hakata is the birthplace of the woven textiles in Japan. The industry is said to have begun after a merchant named Yazaemon Mitsuda brought back weaving techniques from Song Dynasty China in the 13th century. These techniques were passed down through the Mitsuda family and became known as kanton-ori. After a series of tweaks and improvements, this style of weaving, which was distinct to Hakata, came to be known as Hakata-ori.
Two hundred and fifty years later, Yazaemon’s descendant Hikosaburo Mitsuda sailed to Ming Dynasty China to study weaving techniques. He brought back what he learned and incorporated it into the family’s style of weaving, thus resulting in a shiny, thicker fabric similar to taffeta. Over time, unique patterns like the single-prong tokko and the hanasara flower tray emerged. The fabric itself was extremely stiff, making it just right for obi (kimono belts).
The year 2018 marks the 777th anniversary of Hakata-ori. Its reputation as a high-quality textile dates back centuries. In the Edo era, the lords of the Fukuoka domain used to send Hakata-ori to Edo (now, Tokyo) as tribute to the shogunal government. Not many people wear kimono these days, so a range of other items—from bags to neckties to interior decorations—are now made from Hakata-ori. Several commemorative events have already been held this year, and a special logo featuring a distinctive Hakata-ori design has been created.
What’s more, the Traditional Craft Products Month National Convention, which is held in a different part of Japan every year in November, will be held in Fukuoka this year at Marine Messe. Be sure to stop by and see all the traditional crafts from Fukuoka and the rest of Japan. Also, in November, a Hakata-ori Trade Show will be held at Jotenji Temple, which is said to be the birthplace of Hakata-ori textiles. A large number of items will be on sale, so don’t miss it!
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn238, Oct. 2018)