Makers of traditional cotton textiles aim for markets abroad

by Satoshi Iizuka

Kyodo News

KITAKYUSHU — Kitakyushu, with its eyes on foreign markets, is reviving the manufacture of a once-vanished traditional cotton textile.

Kokura-ori is a strong but soft cotton fabric with vertical stripes of alternating colors. The weaving originated in the Buzen Kokura region during the Edo Period (1603-1867) in northern Kyushu.

The fabric was widely used for obi, “hakama,” a kind of skirt for men, and various other items when kimono were the daily clothing.

So common as men’s everyday clothing were hakama made of Kokura-ori that they receive a mention in various works of literature, including Natsume Soseki’s “I Am a Cat.”

The stripes are woven colored threads. Because the vertical threads are three times thicker than the horizontal ones, the stripes stand out clearly.

After the art almost vanished in the early Showa Era, Noriko Tsuiki, a dyeing and weaving artist in Kitakyushu, revived it in 1984 after a two-year period of trial and error.

“I wondered aloud, ‘Is this cotton or silk or what?’ because it was smooth and had a glossy surface,” recalled Tsuiki, 57, of her first impression when she came across a small piece in an antique shop.

“I’m sure Kokura-ori will be accepted globally, because European people love fabric. Although there are many striped fabrics in the world, Kokura-ori is unique in its great design,” Tsuiki said.

She runs a crafts center in a rural area in Kitakyushu where she produces handwoven products.

Kokura Creation Inc., led by President Hideko Watanabe, the younger sister of Tsuiki, deals with a variety of woven products, including purses and card cases.

Tsuiki has succeeded in developing a mechanical weaving process to produce items in large volume.

The company has taken part in trade fairs in Frankfurt and Paris since 2008 and received orders from a distributor in Switzerland.

Original products like table mats and wrapping cloths are also sold in Japan, though in limited number.

The Kitakyushu Chamber of Commerce and Industry set up a committee last month to study the tastes and preferences of consumers abroad to come up with products that will suit the world market, thanks to a subsidy from the Small and Medium Enterprise Agency to foster new Japan brands. Kokura Creation says it is ready to help the project.