Kurume Kasuri is a traditional textile from the Chikugo region that has been handed down over the generations. It is currently produced in Kurume City, Hirokawa Town (in Yame District) and Chikugo City. Patterns are envisioned and the cotton is dyed before it is woven, so the slight variations resulting from this process yield the trademark rough-around-the-edges patterns. This is just one element that adds to the appeal of Kurume Kasuri. The technique for making Kurume Kasuri was invented over 200 years ago by a 12-year-old girl named Den Inoue, the inquisitive daughter of a rice merchant and a skilled weaver in her own right.
The Indonesian technique of dyeing yarn before it is woven, or ikat, is well known around the world, but the technique used in Kurume did not derive from the Asian continent; rather, it is a unique form of textile that evolved on its own from a time when self-sufficiency was the norm.
Before the birth of Kurume Kasuri, the Chikugo region grew indigo in the rich soils along the Chikugo River, much of which is shipped to Osaka. It also grew cotton, but at that time, each household only produced the textiles it needed to get by, or as a side business during the farming offseason. Back then, the dark blue garments that people wore every day only came in plain or striped patterns, so it is probably only natural that the snowfall-like pattern of white dots scattered on blue that Den Inoue developed by trial and error soon became popular. After the Kurume Kasuri process was improved upon, techniques to create large and small patterns and picture patterns were developed, and the industry flourished with the encouragement of the government.
Tied threads and a sketch for a pattern for shoe tops.
Interestingly, the weavers who make the Kurume Kasuri garments for the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival and the techniques they use are well-kept secrets. Most of these garments are classified as tateyoko kasuri, which refers to interweaving the warp (down) threads with the weft (across) threads, a type of Kurume Kasuri that requires some of the most advanced weaving skill. The weaveries of each team’s garments are not made public, and the garments are not available for sale.
Kurume Kasuri worn in Yamakasa
Types of Kurume Kasuri
As an important intangible cultural asset.
Only textiles that meet the following three conditions can be sold as certified important intangible cultural assets:
(1) Must use hand-wrapped dyed thread; (2) Must be dyed with natural indigo; and (3) Must be woven on a traditional handloom. Due to these strict requirements, the quantity that can be produced is highly limited, making these textiles very valuable.
As a traditional handicraft
To guarantee the quality of Kurume Kasuri, which the national government designates as a traditional handicraft, the Kurume Kasuri Cooperative has established its own testing standards, including the following, and only textiles that meet these standards can be sold as traditional handicrafts.
(1) Must be a pre-dyed plain weave fabric; (2) Dyed thread must be used for both the warp and the weft, or at least the weft; (3) The weft thread must be fed using either an end-feed shuttle or a foot-operated shuttle… and so on.
Although a machine is used to weave the textiles, the weft thread is fed using the same kind of shuttle used in the teori style to ensure a high-quality finished product. Even when weaving by machine, the expertise of a skilled artisan is required because it is extremely difficult to match up the warp and weft patterns. In recent years, in addition to the traditional geometric patterns made with indigo dyes, more products are being made with chemical dyes to create modern patterns with poppy colors.
Kurume Kasuri Events – 2019
Though Kurume Kasuri is rooted in tradition, it is used to make beautiful, everyday clothing. If we’ve piqued your interest, then read on to learn where you can see kasuri first hand at these events and permanent exhibitions.
22nd Kurume Kasuri Ai • Ai • Deai Festival (久留米かすり 藍・愛・で逢いフェスティバル)
A festival for kasuri lovers with stalls selling the latest textiles and finished goods. Workshops show off modern as well as traditional Kurume Kasuri items in a fashion show. This is the largest Kurume Kasuri event in Japan!
Kasuri Workshop Visits in Chikugo (絣の里巡りin筑後)
Twice this year kasuri studios open to the public. Stroll through the area and enter workshops to see craftsmen in action. Shop for materials and finished goods! Rental bicycles are available too.
Hirokawa Kasuri Matsuri (広川かすり祭)
Two days where you can buy Kurume Kasuri items at discounted prices and visit workshops using free shuttle buses.
Kurume Kasuri Museum
Visit here for an easy-to-understand overview of the history of kasuri textiles, including a display of fine examples, looms, and a display of tools used by Kurume Kasuri founder, Den Inoue. Shop for textiles, kimono, finished fashions and goods too!
• Free entry
• Open: 10:00~17:00
• Closed: New Year holidays
• 2F Jibasan Kurume, 5-8-5 Higashi-aikawa, Kurume City, Fukuoka
• Tel.: 0942-44-3700
Read our related reports on Kurume Kasuri too:
Introducing Kurume Kasuri
The Yamakasa Happi
Unveiling the Crafts of Kurume
Kurume Kasuri Discovery Tour Report – Nov. 2018
Kurume Kasuri Tour Report
21st Kurume Kasuri Ai, Ai, Deai (Indigo, Love, Encounter) Festival Report
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn243, Mar. 2019)