Nishijin Ori (西陣織)

Nishijin ori is a general term for yarn-dyed fabrics made in Kyoto.

Nishijin is the name of a location in Kyoto, which was derived from the fact that the headquarters of the west camp (or Nishijin) had existed in this locale since the time of the Onin War.

Although there is no administrative district called Nishijin, most of the weavers live in the northwest of Kyoto City such as Kamigyo Ward and Kita Ward (Kyoto City), especially areas encircled by Imadegawa-dori Street to the south, Kitaoji-dori Street to the north, Horikawa-dori Street to the east, and Senbon-dori Street to the west. Although its technique was refined around the period of the Onin War, the tradition was passed down before the war, since the late fifth century.

Nishijin and Nishijin ori are registered trade marks of 'Nishijin Textile Industrial Association.'

A Summary of Nishijin Ori

After the Onin War, weavers who had been evacuated to other places returned to the headquarters of both Nishijin (west camp) and Higashijin (east camp), and revived Kyoto textiles, employing new techniques which they had learned at various provinces, and some of them were introduced from the Ming Empire.

A group of artisans who manufactured twilled fabrics in Nishijin were called 'Otoneri za' they were relatives of the Hata clan.
After vying for the right to trade in Kyoto against a group of artisans of 'Hakuun village' in Higashijin who manufactured nerinuki (silk fabrics), 'Otoneri za' was granted a monopoly to manufacture silk fabrics by a letter of mandate dated 1513, and in 1548 thirty-one artisans of 'Otoneri za' entered public service for the Ashikaga family, establishing the brand 'Nishijin.'

Nishijin' textiles gained overwhelming popularity among the rich townspeople, and experienced a golden age of popularity during the Genroku and Kyoho eras. Around this time two major techniques of Nishijin ori, mon ori (brilliant weavings textured with motifs in relief) and tsuzure ori (figured brocade with a sculptured effect) were established.

In 1872, artisans Ihei INOUE and Tsuneshichi SAKURA were sent to Lyons, France, and introduced Jacquard weaving machines to Japan, and three years later a Japan-made Jacquard weaving machine was produced by Kohei ARAKI. As a result, the new machine made it possible to produce large quantities of fabric in numerous varities, which sorabiki bata or taka bata (drawloom) could not do. Nishijin is still considered the highest-grade textile in Japan today.

Today twelve of the weaving techniques are designated Traditional Craft Products: 'tsuzure,' 'tate (warp) nishiki,' 'yoko (weft) nishiki,' 'donsu' (damask), 'shuchin' (satin with raised figures), 'joha' (heavily twisted yarns for both warp and weft, fine herringbone horizontal patterns or chevrons), 'futsu' (brocades with patterns), 'mojiri ori' (gauze), 'honshibo ori' (warps and wefts with different twists are combined then immersed in hot water), 'velvet,' 'kasuri ori,' and 'tsumugi' (roughly textured silk fabric).

The Weaving Process of Mon Ori

The design for the weave is copied to graph paper and colors are decided, resulting in a 'Mon design template.'

After selecting the threads to be used, the Mon design template is inputted into a computer. In the past, people made holes in thick paper to assign the location of each thread.

After the threads are prepared, they are warped to set the warp on the loom. This process is called 'warping,' and a 'heddle' is prepared for the shuttle to be put through the weft.

A fabric is made by 'weaving' loom.

Unlike regular weaving, in tsumekaki hon tsurezure ori (literally nail-scratching genuine-tapestry weave), the weft is not carried through straightaway and the strands of warps are plucked, so the weaver does not use the tool to rake the weft, but has to rake the weft with the tips of his or her fingernails.

Because of this work, the weavers of the tsumekaki hon tsurezure ori take good care of their hands, and let the fingernails of their dominant hand grow long, and shave them jaggedly with a file. Although it is time-consuming work, this weaving can produce very elaborate patterns, and a project to reproduce the national treasure 'Genji Monogatari Emaki' (Illustrated Tale of Genji) and Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI's 'Jinbaori (surcoat worn over armor) using a pattern of birds and beasts' in tsuzure ori weaving is under way.

Variants of Nishijin Ori

There are words to assist in remembering how to wear kimono, 'dyed kimono with woven obi (a belt or sash for kimono) (for formal wear), and woven kimono with dyed obi (for casual wear).'
Dyed kimono refers to Yuzen, which is a specialty of Kyoto as well, and woven obi refers to Nishijin's nishiki (brocade), which is considered the most graceful obi of all. The woven kimono is a textile of lower quality and made for personal interests such as tsumugi, while dyed obi refers ones with Yuzen-printed patterns.

When the fourteenth shogun, Iemochi TOKUGAWA, planned to goto Kyoto, the origin of his wife Imperial Princess Kazunomiya Chikako, he asked her what she wanted as a souvenir, and she asked him to bring Nishijin ori. However, Iemochi passed away at Osaka-jo Castle, so Kazunomiya, who was given the Nishijin ori, composed a poem in sorrow.

The Nishijin ori I asked you does not mean anything to me now because you are not here any more.'