The traditional silk weaving technique of Hakata-ori is said to have made its way to Japan in 1241, landing in the Hakata district of Fukuoka City. A local merchant and a monk from the nearby Jotenji Temple made the voyage to China where they learnt weaving techniques, bringing them back to Japan.
Hakata-ori is a tightly woven textile (ori) created using an intricate pattern-making process. Pattern design is the most complicated step, as a punchcard must be coded (an early form of computer programming) to direct the loom for textile weaving. During this process thick weft (vertical) threads are woven into countless warp (horizontal) threads.
The fabric is used for some of the finest kimono sashes, called obi. In the past, Hakata-ori textiles were presented as valuable gifts to the Tokugawa shogunate due to their superior quality, and later Hakata-ori obi were sought after by women all over Japan. A special Hakata-ori-pattern is the Kenjogara, a precious design unique to the craft. The pattern features bold stripes at the edges and centre of the fabric, dispersed with more intricate patterned stripes in between. Kenjogara contains Buddhist motifs and was traditionally given as a gift to superiors.
As kimonos have fallen out of fashion as everyday-wear in Japan, the number of Hakata-ori craftspeople has also fallen significantly. Hakata-ori is quite expensive, which makes it difficult to use for regular clothing. The Hakata-ori DC, established in Fukuoka in 2006, works to prevent this craft from fading. Young artisans study here for two years under the guidance of experienced Hakata-ori weavers. The students inject a fresh modernism into their work at the college.
The Hakata-ori DC, established in Fukuoka in 2006, works to prevent this craft from fading
The dawn of computers has also modernised traditional crafts at the Hakata-ori DC. The craftspeople now use digital technologies to create these patterns. The students also inject a fresh modernism into their work at the college; alongside more traditional designs, they can be seen making new patterns that express their individuality, such as one featuring cats and saxophones.
The Hakata-ori DC creates a holistic and multifaceted learning environment in the city of Fukuoka
After graduating, students are able to rent out a loom at the college in order to execute their own Hakata-ori projects. This way, students can continue creating with the skills they learned, adding fresh perspectives to a fading craft. The Hakata-ori DC has developed a holistic learning environment in the city of Fukuoka. The school’s philosophy is to train well-rounded craftspeople by providing lifelong learning opportunities for the students, organising classes in the fields of spatial design, cross-cultural expression and journalism.
Closeby, also in Fukuoka, you can find the Yotenji Temple, a peaceful oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of the city. The Hakata-ori craft still maintains strong ties with this temple, and many odes to the craft can be found in the vicinity. In the temple’s courtyard there is a stone monument commemorating the founder of the Hakata-ori textile, Mitsuta Yazaemon. Within the temple grounds, there is also a stone garden that reflects the story of Hakata-ori having been brought over from China to Japan; one side of the garden represents China and the other represents Japan, while the stones inbetween represent the sea that separates the two countries. Some pieces of Hakata-ori textiles can also be found within the Buddhist altar of the temple as well.