The freezing cold comes to pilfer body temperature from the soil. The loom, set on the dirt floor, is as cold as ice. If one opens the glass door, the factory, or hataba, is like a cave, keeping the cold in, even if the outside air already holds the suspicion of spring. The dirt floor, compacted by the weavers, is hard and black and seems to have completely trapped the past winter in an icy layer.
A shokki, or loom: a machine that weaves cloth. Hataba: a factory that weaves cloth. Hataya: a weaver, or a factory where the weavers work at their craft. These are perhaps words that many people are not familiar with, but in this town they are still very much alive.
They prevent the silk thread from drying and breaking as the yarn is twisted. Constant watering. The translucent objects scattered in the soil are inherent to the gel-like silk. In addition to the sodden atmosphere, the constantly dripping water spurs the cold. I thought of the generations of people who continued this work, patiently, their white breath exhaling into the air down through the years.
Since the plying technique was introduced here, some 300 years ago, people have been working in heavy snow and numbing cold. Indeed, the indomitable temperament of the people here may be somewhat explained by their deep-rooted and inherited understanding of the sound and image of water dripping.
Before twisting the yarn, it is drawn from the spool and wound onto smaller spindles. The silk thread is soaked in hot water to loosen it, and slowly dried. Finally, the raw material thread is ready to weave. Still the work is going on, matching the thread and winding to the bobbins.
People here are used to waiting. In ancient times, they waited for a messenger from the continent over the distant sea to arrive. Waiting for technology and supplies to arrive, communication from the city, over the mountains. Waiting for the return of peddlers, or the arrival of a boat from the north. This is a peninsula, surrounded by sea and mountains, the land half closed. So its people are used to waiting.
These days, one waits for email replies, online meetings, the arrival of an international parcel. Not long ago, we waited for faxes, land-line telephone calls from clients, the arrival of a truck that has been traveling overnight. This is a half closed land, everything takes time. But the geographical inconvenience here at the same time protected an old style of working. While the world is in an ever increasing hurry in search of efficiency, the people here continued plying silk thread, drops of water falling. There was a village that quietly kept up its production of handicrafts, unaware that they had been stopped elsewhere. Until the village was discovered by researchers, no one knew that they were carrying on regardless. A researcher tweeted,“We feel as if we have found an almost extinct species”. The equipment they are still using today is more usually found in a museum.
The spring they had waited and longed for, appeared. Their woven material was given the highest evaluation. Orders come in from wholesalers and the area became wealthy. It was said that brand new cars here were the earliest seen in Japan, and now people had enough money to send their children to university: they had woven their own abundance.
Even when the economy was in downturn, they patiently continued weaving. Twisting the yarn carefully, listening to the voices of the vintage looms, thinking of higher quality fabrics. Its second nature here to wait for change, by taking time and effort.
More recently they received praise from fashion houses & maisons overseas, and orders came for new materials for clothing. People’s consciousness turned to rural areas, away from cities. Attention was now focused on these traditional areas of manufacturing. When designers and young people started visiting, a new wave was just about to occur. Then, the world stopped.
The factory is silent and very quiet. You can even hear the voices of people walking on the street outside. Usually I’m nervous about getting caught in the belts or hitting the looms, but now I’m breath-taken by their beautiful appearance in the aisle.
I saw a cement wall and a thick wooden workbench at the end of the factory. A diagonal shaft of light illuminated the repairing tools laid out there, and gave the vague impression of an old oil painting. I was surprised because I’ve been in this space many times. I said to the owner,“I never noticed this before!” and he replied;“It has always been there!”.
I stepped out from the hataba, to the aroma of flowers and realized there was a flower bed here. On the trail up to the owners house, there were some steps, with a channel running to the side. The steps led up to a vacant piece of land with some light yellowish grass swaying in the wind. He was there and told me,“Today, our weaver is absent —
but we are not closed. I’ve been working so hard for years. I take this break as a good opportunity, for maintaining the hataba and creating new fabric.” Other factories that took time off are also tranquil, but sure enough, in the following days, the sound of the owners looms are heard again.
People here are used to waiting because this is a land that has been half closed. In the 1300 years since silk fabric began to be made here, people have been patient through numerous circumstances — famine, earthquake, war, the bubble economy, the Lehman shock. And all the circumstances of our predecessors are firmly trodden into the dirt floor. Until the nextdoor opens, we will wait.
Waiting, as water drips and thread is spun. Waiting, while creating new fabrics or uncovering old patterns and designs. Waiting, while opening social networks and keeping in touch with people from over the oceans. Beyond that, there is a light — the people who live here know that.
Project Team Organizer
JR EAST MARKETING & COMMUNICATIONS
Project Team Members
Tango Textile Industrial Association
METI Kansai Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry