Fragments of simple basketry and rope were discovered at the Arayashiki archeological dig in the town of Mishima, Ohnuma county in Fukushima Prefecture, proving that the skills and techniques of weaving and twisting ropes existed in the area as far back as the Jomon period, which covers the period of Japanese history from about 10,000 B.C. to 300 B.C. Then, in one ancient local chronicle about farming, reference is made of the fact that baskets were being made from vegetable and plant material in the Aizu region.
In another document it is recorded that such things as rain-capes were made in the vicinity of present-day Mishima, using a type of wild sedge grass, called hiroro. In yet another historical chronicle it seems that shallow baskets and kitchen strainers were made from fine strands of the vine matatabi, or Actinida polygama and that the bark of another vine called yama-budo, or Vitis coignetiae were used in the making of a special kind of basket. It would seem, therefore, that the history of making everyday types of basket and other items from grass and vines has a very long history in the area and it is the very same traditions which are being up-held to this day.
During the late 1960s in particular, as the average age of the population of the area increased, the numbers of people weaving baskets and other items fell. It was therefore decided that in order to try and preserve and maintain these craft skills and techniques, which have been handed down from one generation to the next for hundreds of years, an effort should be made to promote and develop the craft, especially because it is so closely connected with the natural environment and involves the production of finely crafted everyday articles. To this end instruction is now being given in the weaving and twisting techniques, there is an established quality control system, and there is also a movement actively promoting the use of craft items in daily life. As a consequence of these policies, the number of persons involved in this craft has now increased. There are now making a variety of handbags, clutch purses, shoulder bags, and baskets for use in the home as well as strainers used in the kitchen on a daily basis.
The materials for this craft can be found in the mountains locally. As mention before it is mainly hiroro, yama-budo and matatabi which are used and the work of weaving baskets and bags is done when snow is on the ground in this mountainous region.
Production is centered on the town of Mishima and one of the particular features of this craft is the fact that only durable natural materials are used for these hand-woven products.
Hiroro work involves the twisting up of a very fine cord, which is then fashioned into a variety of bags. One of the features of this work is the fine lace-like weaving, which has a natural simplicity and very particular delicacy.
Yama-budo work is done using the bark or skin of this vine, which is gathered during June, when the chestnut trees are in flower. The tough bark is woven in different ways depending on what is being made, and is often used to produce handbags, clutch bags and baskets for candies.
Matatabi work is done using thick, mature vines measuring between one and three meters in length. Kitchen items are primarily made, for one reason because the vine does not absorb water so readily and yet, when it is soaked in water, it becomes pliable and is not hard on the hands. A number of different weaving techniques are used depending on the article being made.
Oku Aizu Aimikumi Zaiku craft products are knitted products made from plants such as the hiroro sedge grass, matatabi silver vine and mountain grape wood gathered in the Oku Aizu region of Fukushima prefecture. The pieces are traditional items of everyday life such as baskets and colanders, and are knitted by hand during the deep winters of the mountainous region. Currently Mishima town in Onuma district of Fukushima prefecture, is the primary production center, and using hiroro, matatabi and mountain grape wood, the people produce a wide variety of products including tote baskets, hand carried baskets, shoulder baskets, and confectionery and cooking containers. A key characteristic of Oku Aizu Amikumi baskets is the rustic durability that comes from the natural materials used to make them, and the charm of the hand-knitting process.
How to make
Hiroro crafts: Hiroro sedge grass is first entwined into cords, and the cords are knitted into products such as tote baskets, hand carried basket and shoulder carried baskets. The baskets are knitted very finely, producing a finish similar to lace, which gives hiroro products a special delicate style despite their rustic material. Mountain grape crafts: The vines used as raw materials for mountain grape baskets are gathered in June, when the chestnut flowers are blooming. Grape vine is strong, and using different knitting techniques depending on the product, crafts such as tote baskets, hand carried baskets and confectionery containers are made. Matatabi silver vine crafts: Using a single vine that has matured to 1 - 3 m as the primary material Matatabi crafts are primarily used as cooking utensils. Matatabi baskets have excellent drainage, and are characterized by keeping moist ingredients supple, thus preventing injuries to the hand. Different knitting techniques are used according to the design of each product.