“I saw the design, but I’m wondering which dyeing method to use”. An artisan dyer picked up the virgin material. She was worried that her dyeing method, without using a stencil or glue, wouldn’t be suitable for what the designer imagined. She dyed a small sample and sent it by airmail.
An image returned, but strikingly different from the previous one. In contrast to the designer’s earlier work, featuring images made up of straight lines, this new image seemed to be more suitable to the characteristics of a bleeding technique. Seeing the new version, she muttered,“I wonder how I’ll do it?”. Compared to her usual dynamic dyeing, it seemed that more strict dye control would be required.
Going back and forth, letters between the designer and the dyer continued, until it was finally the day of the latest sample production. It is a challenge to switch from freehand to using a board-tightened technique. She heats a stainless steel bowl of water and adds some black dyes from different bottles with a few squeezes. Black is especially difficult to formulate. Bluish black, reddish black, yellowish black… she wonders what kind of black he has in mind. As he hasn’t explained precisely his intention, her image broadens.
Once the work starts, the dye is absorbed into the cloth but, as she remarks,“It still doesn’t go through the material”. She has to control the soaking of the cloth so that the colour doesn’t dye too much in particular areas, but does dye enough where it is needed. The dexterous and rapid movement of her hands and arms represents the tactile act of dyeing itself.
She is holding her brush when, after going through several samples, her voice exclaims,“Oh! I‘ve got it!”. Suddenly, a moment of inspiration as to how to control the dye comes to her. You can’t reach this point unless you’re moving your hand.“It takes a bit more effort”, but I could see her expression of relief. At noon loud music is played from the speakers on the street. It plays at 7:00, 8:30, 12:00, 13:00, 17:00, and sometimes 20:00. The number of times varies depending on the region, but the melody, or sometimes a siren, tells the time.
“I think the craftsman’s design is in the act itself”. I was struck by her words, casually spoken as we were having lunch. Craftsmen sometimes drop power words. An unambiguous word that captures the core of things, as if the accumulated experience of producing things with the body distills itself in language. On the way home, she gave me some persimmons and mandarin oranges. Even when I went to the weavers to borrow tools, I would be given persimmons and snacks. This year was a good year for persimmons, so both Fuyu and Mino varieties were abundant.“Boru”is a word in the local dialect for picking fruit. When I saw how beautifully arranged the Mino persimmons were, drying under the eaves of the rooves of the houses here, I immediately sensed that this was a town of craftsmen.
A hammock is floating in a large room. The fluorescent lights on the ceiling were precariously hanging off-centre in several places. The owner says,“I think they were hit by baseballs when I lent the space to the team for practice”. I passed through another cavernous room where machines for twisting yarn were lined up, and went into the next building. Machines called“innovative looms” were lined up in this, the largest factory in the area, producing textiles at high speed.
There are many buildings on this site. Dyeing equipment and a freezer for commercial use were placed outside. Tables and tableware used in a small restaurant were in storage up the stairs, as were parts for hand-weaving machines. When this town was booming, there were a lot of gentlemen owners, overseeing various businesses from comfortable positions in front of their charcoal heaters. I’m not sure if it’s true or not, but I heard that in rivers around here soft-shelled turtles can be seen in the wild, because turtle farming was once a popular gentleman’s occupation.“Grandpa was the one who started everything. It’s hard to close the business and it’s very difficult to make a big thing smaller”. This young man, who made a U-turn from the city and joined his family business, makes a wry smile. Where to starch the yarn, where to twist, and where to weave. It’s difficult just to go back and forth between each building, and although he wants to consolidate the facilities as much as possible, it’s easier said than done. Some of the equipment is left in the old layout because it is old itself, and might not work properly if moved.
This man, who took on the Herculean task of organizing the work of his ancestors simply says,“It’s more rewarding and interesting than working for an ordinary company,” as he continues tying the threads today.The textile that the designer chose from this hataba is a reproduction of a textile that was woven 30 years ago.“I’m happy because it is the first product I’ve worked on, so I have a special feeling for it”. The new image is made on the large and undulating fabric with an inkjet printer. Old, big, new remain: various threads that together make up layers and turn into a woven textile.
A heap of elongated warp-thick paper, curling at the edges, was piled up in the aisle. It was going to be discarded by a warping subcontractor who went out of business. Before and after the actual weaving is completed there are many jobs to be done, all of them requiring highly skilled techniques. During the period of high economic growth, division of labor was carried out in search of efficiency. I hear that now, in many places, textiles cannot be made because just one part of the whole process is lacking. The logos and seals of various weaving companies that had used this paper were stamped on it, revealing a network that stretched all over Japan, with factories in distant regions. Some of them have gone, but some are long-established manufacturers. Their company logos are stamped in old form kanji that are not commonly used anymore; today their names are re-branded in katakana. The warp-thick paper finally comes to rest here, its journey over. How many years will it spend here? Will it ever move to another place?
We gently wipe off the dust and dispose of any damaged sheets. A large number of them are required in textile-related tools. These paper items are very heavy when
stacked, and it is difficult to lift them onto the steel shelves. A stainless steel tube is hanging above the shelf. There was a cast iron stove here. The heat source was coke. At the beginning of winter, I see houses where a winter’s worth of coke has been bought by the residents to keep out the cold that permeates their bones. There are also houses piling up firewood in preparation for winter. In recent years there has been less snow, and the damp here brings winter chill rather than dry cold. The sunset is getting earlier and earlier, and it feels like midnight when I am still in the factory.
Project Team Organizer
JR EAST MARKETING & COMMUNICATIONS
Project Team Members
Tango Textile Industrial Association
METI Kansai Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry