Weaving – Nishijin Quarter, Kyoto

July 2, 2009

Now for some tourist-talk….
Weaving associated with the Nishijin weaving quarter is synonymous with traditional textiles in Kyoto and is far and away the most dominant of all the textile crafts on show to tourists, local and foreign, in Kyoto.
This one-stop shop for Nishijin textiles is the tourist showcase of the quarter. The days of walking around the quarter and hearing the clack of looms in action are long gone. Kawabata in his novel “The Old Capital” talks of the fate of single-loom weavers and those who rent looms compared to those with many looms creating small weaving factories.
Nishijin Textile Centre is located in a large multi-storied building on one of Kyoto’s widest busiest streets with an extensive carpark out the back large enough for tourist buses. From the outside, it resembles more a bank than a cultural institution with its glass doors and marble-floored foyer. I’ve mentioned previously the first floor open area devoted to 15min kimono fashion parades on the hour every hour. There are small looms scattered around the first and second floor areas for hands-on experience in plain weave for tourists. The second-floor retail area is department-store like in character selling men’s ties and other popular products made from Nishijin weaving. There are several jacquard looms nearby on which weavers work, demonstrating the time-consuming nature of the weaving as well as the heavy obi made from them. For the weaver, there is the added attraction of seeing painted colour cartoons and machines skeining up the yarn. On the third floor is a museum showing kimono, obi and weaving equipment.


This establishment is set in a Nishijin side-street amid a streetscape of two-storey buildings in the old wooden style. Its façade is discreet and there is no signage in English. The interior is traditional too – shoes off, tatami mats. This is the “Japanese” version of Nishijin Textile Centre. I had to revisit Nishijin Textile Centre several times to take in all of the demonstrating craftsmen and women; most of the large jacquard looms were unattended, but I was able to take better photos than previously. At Orinasu and Nishijin Textile Centre, I witnessed only the `ordinary’ nishijin-ori, not the fingernail tsuzure weaving.

Orinasu turned out to be a shop, working obi weaving factory, textile outlet and museum all in one. Their website shows the kimono in their main foyer. Upstairs however was a long gallery space with examples of just about all the major Japanese textile styles – one example of each. So this is where I saw single examples of kogin,kasuri, Kurume, shima, komon, etc. Another upstairs room is home to
dozens of woven obi for sale. The shop assistant organised for four of us (a Japanese couple, a Japanese man and me) to visit the obi weaving factory area where a supervisor explained the jacquard weaving process. He showed us how the fabric was woven from the back, with the help of a mirror to show the front, the cartoon and jacquard cards, etc. My Japanese was sufficient to nod in all the right places, especially since he wasdescribing textile processes I was familiar with. One woman weaving a nearby loom, away from the commentary provided by the supervisor, was weaving silk – half a dozen continuous 1″wide temples were in place, but more curiously she brushed on ?water every inch or so (on the back of the weaving which was facing her) with a very hot bar heater set up immediately on the underside (the front face of the weaving). I doubt this was any sort of dyeing, but probably had more to do with setting the silk as she worked. Those of you with more extensive experience with silk and jacquard might be able to explain this – I hadn’t seen such proximity of heat and fibre like this before.

Here and at Nishijin I was exposed to the painted graph paper cartoon designs for the obi. Nishijin had on show the machine which punches the jacquard loom cards.  Orinasu’s museum space across the road was a giant hall full of Noh costumes spread around three walls, probably designed to coincide with a similar exhibition on at the Kyoto National Museum. These large kimono/furosode were identical to the ones I’d seen in the shop foyer and in the weaving factory, so these tried-and-true designs were being reproduced.


The Trad Arts & Crafts Museum of Kyoto is one of my favourite places – it’s modern, comprehensive, free, has a great library to rummage through and a wonderful area just to sit and watch a pond and water curtain. It’s not frequented by massed tours of tourists. This is the academic version of the Nishijin Textile Centre and Orinasu. There are objects on display made from Nishijin-ori,and the following written information is provided for visitors:

Typical Techniques of Nishijin-ori
tsuzure-ori, weft-faced
futsu, multi-layered (moire?)
tate-nishiki, warp-patterned weaving
mojiri-ori, gauze
nuki-nishiki, multicoloured wefts where the wefts create the pattern
honshibo-ori, warps and wefts with different twists are combined then immersed in hot water
donsu damask, alternate warps and wefts are raised velvet
shuchin satin, warp or weft are raised and the pattern is created with special weft threads
kasuri-ori, silk crepe (Nishijin), dye-masking paste on warps and wefts
shoha, heavily twisted yarns for both warp and weft, fine herringbone horizontal patterns or chevrons
tsumugi, embroidery over this handspun floss.

The loop video accompanying the exhibits mentioned
* tsuzure bata (initially woven with the fingers and tamped down with the filed fingernails, followed by a beater and a final run along the edge of the weaving with a “pen” before moving on to the next weft);
* monisyozu, painting the cartoon on graph paper;
* tebata, jacquard loom weaving, at an astonishing speed.

Over time, I’ll upload photos relating to nishijin-ori. Photography was not possible in Fureaikan or Orinasu, but was allowed at Nishijin Textile Centre. I’ll try to assemble all my Noh costume info for a later post, also the sagemono – smoking/tobacco stuff, as displayed at the Sannenzaka Museum off Teapot Lane (weaving incorporated into the tobacco pouches, alongside metalwork).







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