A Lost Tradition Revived in the Heisei Era
The Echigo-jofu and Ojiya-chijimi textiles were designated as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Properties in 2009. It was the first such recognition of a Japanese textile. That honor undoubtedly gave great pleasure to these modest snow country people, who are unskilled at self-promotion. However the path to achieving this recognition was not an easy one. For a time the kimono cloth production methods that produced Ojiya-chijimi cloth of sufficient quality to be recognized as genuine actually died out and were lost.
In 1955 Echigo-jofu and Ojiya-chijimi were designated Important National Intangible Cultural Properties, but there were five conditions that had to be met to be awarded this recognition. The ramie yarn should be spun by hand, the threads used to make the kasuri splash-dye pattern should be hand-tied, the weaving loom should be a type that is operated while seated on the floor, the crimps should be made by hand- rubbing or foot-trampling in hot water, and finally, it should be snow-bleached. These were strict conditions.
In an age when cotton yarn and machine woven cloth were taking over, and demand for kimonos was dwindling, it had become difficult for artisans to find opportunities to practice their cloth- making skills. All in all it took seven years to revive all the stages, starting from judging a piece of yarn by hand, until all were regained by 1989.
Nowadays progress has been achieved not only for kimono cloth, but also for the crimped cloth that is used for interior decoration or making western- style clothing which is close to hand- worked, and has been woven making free use of delicate machines.
Lifestyles have changed too, and the fact is that the traditional kimono is not worn by everyone at important ceremonial occasions such as weddings and funerals anymore.
However, younger generations are now revaluating traditional clothing, since it is a part of Japanese culture that does indeed advantageously display the Japanese figure and style of manner.