The Hakata-ori woven textile is a traditional Hakata craft as well known as the Hakata ningyo dolls. It has been popular for centuries for use in kimono and obi as a silk textile due to its tensility and thickness of the fabric. It makes a distinctive sound when pulled tight. This sound, called “kinunari” (sometimes referred to as “scroop” in English), is a hallmark of the finest silk.
Hakata-ori is closely connected to Buddhism. Mitsuda Yazaemon, a Hakata merchant who traveled to Sung dynasty China in the 13th century, returned with cloth weaving techniques that became the roots of Hakata-ori. Mitsuda consulted with the Zen monk Shoichi Kokushi to create the unique fabric. The monk had traveled with Mitsuda to China and established the Shoten-ji Buddhist temple in Hakata after he returned. Shoichi pointed to some Buddhist utensils, goes the story, and suggested he use the patterns as models for the design. The patterns on those utensils are still used today in Hakata-ori.
In the Edo period, Hakata-ori became an important gift presented to the Shogunate by the head of the Fukuoka domain. That’s the reason it’s sometimes called Kenjo Hakata. The cloth presented was in five colors: blue, red, navy blue, yellow, and purple. This gave rise to yet another name, Goshiki Kenjo. These five colors are said to represent the Wu Xing, or five phases, concept of China.
The Hakatamachiya Furusatokan, located next to the Kushida Shinto shrine, offers a demonstration of Hakata-ori weaving every day. Visitors to the Hakata Traditional Craft Center can also learn a lot about the material there. The Shoten-ji temple presents a type of trade show featuring Hakata-ori products every year early in November. This is an excellent opportunity to see the beautiful rock garden and buildings of the temple that are not ordinarily open to the public. There is a memorial tablet to Mitsuda Yazaemon on the temple grounds. Don’t miss this once-in-a-year chance!
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn167, Nov. 2012)