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The Silk Weavers of Kyoto

The Silk Weavers of Kyoto: Family and Work in a Changing Traditional Industry

Tamara K. Hareven
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 1
Pages: 371
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  • Book Info
    The Silk Weavers of Kyoto
    Book Description:

    The makers of obi, the elegant and costly sash worn over kimono in Japan, belong to an endangered species. These families of manufacturers, weavers, and other craftspeople centered in the Nishijin weaving district of Kyoto have practiced their demanding craft for generations. In recent decades, however, as a result of declining markets for kimono, they find their livelihood and pride harder to sustain. This book is a poignant exploration of a vanishing world. Tamara Hareven integrates historical research with intensive life history interviews to reveal the relationships among family, work, and community in this highly specialized occupation. Hareven uses her knowledge of textile workers' lives in the United States and Western Europe to show how striking similarities in weavers' experiences transcend cultural differences. These very rich personal testimonies, taken over a decade and a half, provide insight into how these men and women have juggled family and work roles and coped with insecurities. Readers can learn firsthand how weavers perceive their craft and how they interpret their lives and view the world around them. With rare immediacy,The Silk Weavers of Kyotocaptures a way of life that is rapidly disappearing.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93576-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations and Tables
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxv)
  6. [Illustrations]
    (pp. xxvi-xxviii)

    • CHAPTER 1 From Amoskeag to Nishijin
      (pp. 3-24)

      In January 1981, I visited Kyoto for the first time and went immediately to see the historic Nishijin weaving district. At that time, I had no intention of carrying out research in Nishijin. Having written about family and work in the textile industry in New England, my main purpose was to see the weaving enterprises and work processes and to talk with some of the weavers. With the help of an interpreter, I visited several highly skilled weavers who were operating traditional handlooms[tebata]in the Nishijin Textile Center[Nishijin Ori Kaikan], which is run by the Nishijin Textile Industrial...

    • CHAPTER 2 A World within a World
      (pp. 25-50)

      As Mr. Yamaguchi pointed out, residents of Kyoto believe that the world of Nishijin, like that of the temples or teahouses, is rooted in a long, complex tradition, with a sense of mystery that cannot be easily unraveled by outsiders. The Kyoto people have generated a stereotype of Nishijin as an antiquated and, at times, almost sinister setting—a sort of hidden world. This image is one that Nishijin weavers and manufacturers would like to erase. In reality, some aspects of Nishijin life remain hidden but are hardly sinister (except as they are sometimes exploited on Japanese television and in...

    • CHAPTER 3 Family Business, Cottage Industry
      (pp. 51-68)

      Mrs. Fujiwara (forty-five years old at the time of the interview) pointed out that prior to World War II, Nishijin cottage weavers engaged the entire family in the weaving enterprise. Husband and wife, older sons, and older daughters worked side by side. Before the introduction of powerlooms, men did most of the weaving, and their wives, daughters, and aging parents carried out subsidiary tasks involving preparation and clean-up[shita-shigoto]. Mrs. Fujiwara’s father, Mr. Nishitani, remembered the intensive involvement of all his family members in household production:

      Sixty years ago, all of us, my father and I also, all of us...

    • CHAPTER 4 Family Work in Household Production
      (pp. 69-84)

      The relationship between family and work patterns among Nishijin weavers and manufacturers in the development of the cottage industry has undergone a sequence of changes since the beginning of the twentieth century. As explained earlier, the new household production system peaked in the 1930s, after major transformations that began earlier in the twentieth century. These include the widespread use of powerlooms[riki-shokki], the increasing number of women weavers, and the expansion of weaving households[chinbata]into previously unsettled rural districts north and west of historical Nishijin. The manufacturers developed these neighborhoods to accommodate the growing industry’s needs for new space...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Mentality and Identity of the Nishijin Craftspeople
      (pp. 85-104)

      Nishijin craftspeople[shokunin]see their main identity in weaving, a feeling reinforced by the continuity of their craft over several generations in their families. Their identity rests on their sense of competence and skill, on their commitment to making a special textile famous for its unique quality and design, and on their membership in a community in which all aspects of life are deeply interwoven with the production of this textile. As Mr. Nishitani, a highly skilled handloom weaver, put it: “My family lived here. I was born here. If you work on Nishijin weaving for forty or fifty years,...


    • Mr. Yamaguchi: Manufacturer and Creator of The Tale of Genji on Handwoven Scrolls
      (pp. 107-120)

      These are the paintings ofThe Tale of Genji. I made a copy of the paintings by looking at the originals. This picture was painted by Tawaraya Sotatsu [a famous Japanese painter] in the early Edo Period in the beginning of the seventeenth century. I took on such a big project because I wanted to recreate these paintings in textiles. The original paintings used to be much more colorful, but the bright colors faded away. I think that the original painter’s intention was to expressThe Tale of Genjiin colorful images. Since the colors are gone, we cannot tell...

    • Mrs. Shibagaki: Artistic Handloom Weaver
      (pp. 121-128)

      My parents’ jobs had nothing to do with weaving. My father was a tailor, and my mother was a housewife. I wanted to have a job. For women there were not many jobs. I thought thattsuzure[figured, handwoven brocade] weaving was the work that a woman could do from the beginning to the end. I knew that many women were working as weavers.¹ I was familiar with atsuzureworkshop that was near my home, and then became interested in it. I thought weaving would be the most appropriate job for me.

      I considered learning to knit, but it...

    • Mrs. Fuwa: Artistic Handloom Weaver
      (pp. 129-135)

      Some people are better at weaving in factories, and others are better at demonstrating the craft for tourists. When I visited Harvard University and demonstrated the weaving there, people didn’t ask me too many questions. They just said: “Nishijin-ori[textile] is wonderful and beautiful.” That’s all. And they said something like, “Although it’s expensive, I want to have one to decorate my home.” I spent more time showing my fingernails than weaving. We cut our nails in the shape of saws. It’s easier to pull through the threads of the weft. But those who weave genuinetsuzure[figured, handwoven brocade]...

    • Mrs. Fujiwara, Mr. Fujiwara, and Mr. Nishitani: Handloom Weavers
      (pp. 136-175)

      Mrs. F.: No, I do not want my children to be weavers. For their happiness, I don’t want them to be weavers. There were three generations before me weaving in Nishijin. As far as we know, we are the fourth generation. We guess so, but we don’t have any family tree. This is all according to my father’s memory.

      My family was a weaving family and I was urged to weave against my will. I grew up with the weaving sounds. I was seventeen years old when I started weaving. Even before that, while I was still in school, I...

    • Mr. and Mrs. Konishi: Handloom Weavers
      (pp. 176-218)

      Mr. K.: The silk threads usually look really pretty. Indeed, they have different colors and so on So the threads are not what you would get dirty from. But you have to work on it in various forms. Just explaining does not make people understand that you do, in fact, get dirty working.

      Mrs. K.: We are proud of our work. However. . . . [hesitation]

      Mr. K.: However, the demand for this kind of work has been declining. I am sure that some weavers will survive, though. I can’t imagine thatkimonowill cease to exist. It will continue...

    • Mr. and Mrs. Shibagaki: Two Generations of Handloom Weavers
      (pp. 219-238)

      Mr. S.: Thank you very much! I really appreciate your effort in coming to such a messy small place and to such an old man[o-jii]who doesn’t really speak well. I stopped working full-time about five or six years ago, when the manufacturer[oriya-san¹]where I worked went bankrupt because of economic recessions and the company dissolved. Our company was makingobiand more complicated weavings. Maybe they went broke because they had overproduced. We made moreobithan the orders we received. When I became seventy years old, I began to receive pensions as well as some unemployment...

    • Mr. and Mrs. Sakurai: Handloom Weavers
      (pp. 239-249)

      Mr. S.: This tapestry came from my family. I took it to the Kyoto National Museum. They told me that it is something precious. My ancestors used to work for Nakayama Dainagon [a noble family connected to the Imperial Palace], so I think that they were able somehow to get this. My ancestors lived somewhere near Arashiyama [west of Kyoto] for a long time. In the Meiji Period, after the occupational classification of families was abolished, my ancestor lost his job at the imperial court[kyūtei]. He did not know how to do anything, because he had been a court...

    • Mrs. Yasuda and Mr. Yasuda: Manufacturer’s Widow and Manufacturer’s Mother; Manufacturer, Manufacturer’s Son, and Manufacturer’s Father
      (pp. 250-263)

      In Nishijin, the head of the company takes care primarily of the manufacturers’ union and sales, and his wife, in the background, engages in management of the factory and in blending colors. Most of the time, this is the way in a Nishijin family.

      Nishijin is such a place where family members work together. All textile families are busy. Everyone in the family helps each other. The men mainly work in public areas, such as sales and management, whereas other family members look after the weavers. This is what you find in most of the Nishijin family companies wherever you...

    • Mrs. Maizuru Michiko: Manufacturer’s Daughter, Manufacturer’s Widow, Manufacturer’s Mother
      (pp. 264-272)

      My son married for love[ren’ai-kekkon];he and his wife went to the same college. I was surprised to find them sitting together during the graduation ceremony at Doshisha University. She is not related to a textile family at all. I know that my father wanted someone related to textiles to some extent, and he was concerned with her family’s class. Also he wanted my son to marry someone much younger than himself. I encouraged them to marry, even against my father’s will. My son’s wife is the only daughter in her family. Her father runs a transportation company. She...

    • Mr. Hiraoka: Production Manager at the Nishijin Maizuru Textile Company
      (pp. 273-276)

      My job includes various tasks, such as planning for the design of the cloth, studying the organization of production, development new products, and so on. I also supervise the cottage weavers[debata]. So half of my job is to supervise the weavers and the other half is to design and manage the products. I can’t leave my work until 2:00 or 3:00 a.m., because the cottage weavers visit every day. I do not design myself, but I supervise the designers. I give orders to the designers and to the various subcontractors.

      Well, since Nishijin is situated within the city, it...

    • Mr. Koyama: Weavers’ Assistant in a Factory
      (pp. 277-280)

      Young people today don’t know about life in Nishijin. We couldn’t even receive compulsory education. If we didn’t stop going to school in sixth grade and didn’t have work, parents and children couldn’t eat. Even before we entered sixth grade, we had to wind the weft.

      I have been weaving for more than fifty years. My parents had no relation to weaving. My father was a peasant. He lived in Nagoya. After all, it was a custom that in the old days, before the present family system emerged, the oldest son inherited the family estate. Second and third sons were...

    • Mr. Aioi: Warper
      (pp. 281-285)

      The process of warping itself is very simple. We just make the warp[tate-ito]. The manufacturer[orimoto]delivers to us bundles of dyed silk thread. Then the winders[kuriya]wind them into the rolls. This is it. We arrange the threads for the warp, depending on the number of threads needed. We roll up the threads with that big drum, which fixes both the number and the length of threads. We must have special skills to sustain the same tension of the rolls of thread; otherwise, the completed woven cloth would be inconsistent in its texture. It takes at least...

    • Mrs. Uebayashi: Cottage Weaver on the Tango Peninsula on the Japan Sea
      (pp. 286-294)

      Mrs. U.: I began weavingobiin May of Shōwa 48 [1973]. I started to supplement my husband’s income, which was not enough for us to have any savings. Weaving was just a part-time job then, but now it has become a full-time job for me. When the manufacturer[oyakata]required me to achieve a higher production quota, I started to work from 7:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m.¹ Yes, I feel overburdened. I also wake up at 3:30 or 4:00 a.m. to see my husband off when he goes fishing. I have to help him load many things on the...

    • Mr. and Mrs. Nagahama: Cottage Weavers of Wedding Kimono on the Tango Peninsula
      (pp. 295-302)

      Mrs. N.: I have been weaving since the age of nineteen. This was not necessarily common at that time. I am the daughter of weavers, but I had never entered my parents’ workshop till I graduated from high school. Yes, I helped some after school. I swept the floor. But I began weaving with my parents after I graduated from high school. When I started weaving for the first time, I found that tying the warp was extremely difficult for me. I had a hard time till I could master the skill of connecting the threads. Most of our relatives...

  9. Conclusion: The Nishijin Experience in Comparative Perspective
    (pp. 303-312)

    The questions addressed in this study are central to an understanding of the relationship between individuals and the process of social change in various parts of the world, past and present. Even though the Nishijin experience has many aspects unique to Japanese society and culture, it also parallels developments that followed the industrial revolution in Western Europe and the United States in the nineteenth century. The textile industry, in this respect, is a good case in point. In Europe and the United States, the replacement of a traditional craft by a rapidly advancing industrial technology led to redefinition of the...

  10. Appendix: The Subjective Reconstruction of Life History
    (pp. 313-318)
  11. Glossary of Japanese Words
    (pp. 319-328)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 329-332)
  13. Index
    (pp. 333-346)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 347-347)