| Traditional & Culture

A Registered UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage – OJIYACHIJIMI

The weft (crosswise) thread is given a strong twist as it is woven, and finally the fabric is rubbed by hand in hot water to make the crimps and bring out the distinctive texture. In recent years many bolts of fabric are machine-made, with the rubbing in hot water being the only manual process.

A Land that Produces Cloth Whenever Winter Comes

The skies in Echigo are wide and the mountains towering. In summer green ears of rice bend in the wind and enormous bursts of fireworks rise up at the local festivals. In autumn the golden heads of rice droop heavy. When the abundant harvests are over, cold fronts start arriving from Siberia. Thick clouds cover the sky and soft white snow comes dancing down. Eventually the entire landscape is swallowed up by the snow. Thus does winter come to Echigo time and time again. And every time winter comes, more fabric is made. “Is the snow heavy this year?”

To spin the yarn and weave the cloth during the snows of winter, while wishing for the coolness of summer, is women’s work. To sweat while splitting wood in silence during midsummer, so that the whole family will be safe and sound when winter comes on, is men’s work. Ojiya-chijimi is the ultimate gift from winter to summer, born out of the Echigo people’s mutual care support each other.

A piece of Ojiya-chijimi kimono fabric designated an Important Intangible Cultural Property. Only a few pieces of this are completed each year, as every piece of this first-rate hand-made fabric must pass through many stages of production.

Photo/Text Yuko Iida

Member of the Japan Professional Photographers Society. She has been covering manual labor and craftwork in her travels around Japan and overseas for 25 years. Her lifework has been to photograph indigenous natural surroundings and the culture connected to it in the islands of Oceania and the Pacific Rim, Asia and Europe. She is the author of Fiji no Maho (The Magic of Fiji) (Chihaya-shobo), and has held numerous exhibitions. 


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