Weaving and Dyeing on Surrounding Islands

These new Uchina series are an introduction to Okinawa's culture and history from a different viewpoint. Our previous issue focused on the gusuku castles registered as World Heritage Sites. In this new issue, we will bring to you the aura and contours seen in the pottery and textiles that Okinawa has nurtured within its history and environment. We hope you enjoy the unique tint and form these crafts display.
First Series: Textiles on Okinawa Island
Second Series: Textiles on Surrounding Islands
Third Series: Okinawan Pottery
Fourth Series: Ryukyu Lacquerware and Glass


A wide array of distinctive weaves such as the Kumejima Tsumugi, Yaeyama Jofu, Minsa of Taketomi, Kohama and Yonaguni Islands and Yonaguni Hanaui bloomed on the beautiful islands surrounding Okinawa. The plants growing on the islands played a significant role in the creation of these beauties. Fibers of ramie, tonbiyan (agave) and basho (banana) are used along with indigo plants, fukugi trees and hawthorns for dyes. These textiles were woven by the delicate hands of women who passed down the tradition to their daughters. Each design on kasuri and hanaui fabrics were given names such as tuiguwa (bird) or buribusa (numerous stars). These names reflect the surrounding environment in their everyday lives and emphasize the women's strong bond with these textiles.


The history of Jofu hemp textiles was full of oppressive regulations. Documents state that ramie was presented to the Ming dynasty as a celebratory gift from the Ryukyu Kingdom government in the 14th or 15th century. It is believed that regulations of tributary cloth productions were enforced in this era. The invasion of the Satsuma clan in 1609 brought an expansion in the production of tributary ramie and bashofu textiles. A list stating the tributary items given to the Satsuma clan in 1611, is as follows: 3,000 rolls of bashofu, 180 kg of sweet potatoes, 6,000 rolls of jofu (finely woven hemp) and 10,000 rolls of gefu (coarsely woven hemp).


Miyako Jofu Miyako Jofu

Miyako Jofu is a navy blue woven textile using ramie as raw material. Light like a feather, this delicate jofu emphasizes its sheerness, intricate designs and dark gloss. Beauty turned its fate into a tributary cloth and the strict regulations enforced on the production demanded perfection. The agony and severity of this period are proved in existing songs. The textiles were woven under strict Satsuma supervision by women gathered in a hut. These textiles journeyed the seas to Edo (Tokyo) and Osaka. They were labeled as Satsuma products and were called Satsuma Jofu.
jofu of Yaeyama jofu of Yaeyama

Although the same fibers were used, the jofu of Yaeyama was enforced through regulations to use white whereas the jofu of Miyako was indigo blue. Dyes extracted from the yam family in the mountains were used in a special rub-on method. Indigo blue and light brown colors of kasuri patterns are arranged on the white to create an airy textile.
tsumugi in Kumejima tsumugi in Kumejima

The origin of the tsumugi in Kumejima Island is believed to have come from the south. It has the longest history out of the 200 tsumugi weaves made in Japan. Weaving techniques from Hachijojima Island were introduced through the Satsuma clan after their invasion and the textile eventually became a tributary cloth. A major production of the textile, from sericulture to looms, involved the whole island. Indigenous plant dyes and mud dyeing method produces the perfect hue for this textile. The coloration combined with the texture coming from handweaving makes it special and distinctive. The basic black-brown coloring of the textile is developed by soaking it in a Chinese root dye (Smilax China L.) for 15 times, in hawthorn extract for 25 times and in raw mud 8 times.
Left: Yaeyama Minsa
Right: Yonaguni Minsa

Minsa is a sash woven by cotton threads in indigo blue. These sashes were once presented to men to express women's love. The history of this beautiful sash goes back to the Afghanistan region via Tibet and China. Patterns and thread dyes depend on the region it is produced. Well-known minsas have two distinctive designs of five-squared and four-squared patterns. These patterns are woven alternately and express the feeling, "love me forever". Minsa sashes produced in Yonaguni include patterns depicting married couples.
Yonaguni textiles Yonaguni textilesYonaguni textiles

Yonaguni textiles includes dimensional figures such as the Hanaui Tisaji (hand cloth) and the Yonaguni Hanaui. Techniques are believed to have come on trade ships in the 15th century. The Hanaui Tisaji hand cloths were once given from women to man to pray for safety voyages. And the Yonaguni Hanaui with designs woven on kimono cloths uses similar techniques as the Shuri Hanaui.