This type of cloth dates back to the beginning of the 19th century, when a 12 year old girl called Inoue Den was inspired by a scrap of old material. Later, the Kurume clan in the south west of present day Fukuoka Prefecture promoted its production.
The origins of this cloth woven on the Amami islands near Okinawa dates back to the 7th century. It was not until the beginning of the 18th century, however, that the craft took on the guise of an industry and its techniques were subsequently handed on to those working in Kagoshima Prefecture.
Originating in India, this method of weaving was introduced into Japan around the 14th century along eastern trade routes.
Miyako Fine Ramie
Four hundred years ago, a boat carrying Okinawan tributes was caught in a typhoon. A man, who happened to be on board from Miyakojima called Sugamayonin Shin'ei, heroically dived into the sea when the boat was about to sink and repaired the damage thus saving the lives of all the crew. Recognizing his bravery, the King of Ryukyu made him a monk. In return, Shin'ei's wife was overjoyed and lovingly wove a piece of cloth to give to the King, and it was this cloth that is said to be the origin of Miyako Jofu.
Yuntanza Hana-ui Fabrics
Although it is uncertain actually when, some people think that this type of weaving came from the South because of its very particular floral designs. What is certain, however, is that the cloth was being produced in the 15th century because records show that gifts of this figured cloth were sent to Korea.There are also records of the cloth being presented to the King of Ryukyu from Java.
The weaving of this cloth started about the same time as the Yomitanzan Hanaori Fabrics and is similarly characterized by its tropical feel and motifs. Production ceased for a time but was revived by elderly people who knew the techniques involved.
The roots of this cloth go back to the 14th and 15th centuries when there were exchanges and trade with China and countries in South East Asia. These kimono cloths are mainly a kasuri or ikat type with repeated patterns of a tropical flavor. Despite its long history, it was not until about 1920 that a fully fledged center for weaving was established. Since then traditional skills and techniques peculiar to this weave have become more widespread in use and continue to this day.
Trade flourished between the kingdom of Ryukyu and China and South East Asia during the 14th and 15th centuries and weaving techniques were learned through these exchanges. Nurtured by the Okinawan climate and developed over the centuries, a number of textiles, each with their own characteristic traits, came into being. One of these was a cloth produced in Shuri.
Situated on the extreme western boundary of Japan, records show that weaving on Yonaguni Island dates back some 500 years, and cloth was already being paid as a tax during the 1520s. During the difficult times after World War II, fishing nets were unraveled to provide yarn for this cloth, which is still woven by the women, who devote so much time producing this cloth that is very representative of the island's natural environment.
Kijoka Banana Fiber Cloth
It seems that banana fiber cloth was already being made around the 13th century but it was much later that it became popular. In the old days banana trees were planted in gardens and fields, and the womenfolk of a family wove it into fabric for home use. Silk and cotton became much more readily available during the 19th century but people still enjoyed wearing banana fiber cloth. Kijoka no Bashofu, which carries on these traditions, was designated as a cultural property by the Prefecture in 1972 and two years later in 1974 it was made an important intangible cultural property by the nation.
There are records confirming that a cotton cloth or minsaa which had originated in Afghanistan and had been brought to the Ryukyus from China was in use at the beginning of the 16th century at the Ryukyu court. It seems fairly certain, therefore, that minsaa was already being woven in the Yaeyama area about this time. The name minsaa is derived from min meaning cotton and saa meaning narrow band.
Satsuma was one of the old provinces occupying what is now the western part of Kagoshima Prefecture at the southern end of Kyushu. Forces from Satsuma invaded Ryukyu in 1609 and the compulsory weaving of Yaeyama Jofu to pay a poll tax that was levied, in turn led to an improvement of techniques.