Meeting a modern-day weaver

Miki Miyajima, Qualified Weaver of Hakata-Ori Textiles

Take the train one stop from JR Hakata Station to Gion, then it’s just a quick stroll from the subway to the Hakata Orikoubou Oriorido. This entire Gokushomachi neighborhood still has the feel of an old Japanese castle town. There’s Touchouji Temple, with a pagoda and the Fukuoka Daibutsu, Japan’s biggest seated wooden Buddha; Shoufukuji, Japan’s first Zen temple; and Joudenji Temple, the place where Hakata-ori, the local form of woven cloth, originated. Against this atmospheric backdrop, I meet Miki Miyajima, a qualified weaver of Hakata-ori textiles. Miki weaves Hakata-ori textiles on a daily basis, chiefly for kimono sashes. As a child she loved to draw and sew, so her current job is a dream come true for her. Like most of the younger generation of Hakata-ori weavers, Miki graduated from Hakata-ori Development College.

At the Oriorido, I was surprised to see just what hard work weaving is. It involves using not just both hands, but both feet too. The single-mindedconcentration with which the weavers work—their looms going clickety-clack, clickety-clack—was impressive. “My teachers at college told me that I should sit at my loom all the time, except for when I was eating meals or had to go the toilet,” explains Miki. It’s hard and stressful work, but the crucial thing is to maintain the same rhythm. If your rhythm is off, you end up with irregularities in the cloth. Miki says that although technical level is not quite where she’d like it to be, she made up her mind to do the best she could now and is satisfied with her ability to express herself.

She’s also a mom. “My son is simply crazy about space,” she explains. “So I ended up getting interested too.” She sometimes watches videos about Japanese astronaut Kouichi Wakata on her laptop while she’s working. She admires his commitment to solving problems by himself. Images she saw on TV of the international space station have had an impact on her work, with geometric patterns working their way into the kimono sashes she makes. For her, the key concepts of Hakata-ori are “sheen” and “air.” Hakata-ori combines a fine warp (vertical thread) with a thicker woof (lateral threads). The woof is not a single thread, but several threads twisted together. Miki believes that these interlaced threads trap air inside them, resulting in a sheen that makes the cloth uniquely beautiful.

As well as watching weavers at work, the Oriorido gives tourists the opportunity to buy kimono sashes and accessories. There’s a range of things for sale including stoles, coasters, tissue cases and fan holders. When Miki is at her loom, she likes to imagine the future owner of whatever it is she is making. “If I’m weaving a kimono sash, then I want to make one that will put whoever wears it in a good mood and boost their self-confidence,” she explains. Miki recently took part in a workshop at the Hakata Traditional Craft and Design Museum. The workshop was about incorporating traditional Hakata arts and crafts into products that will appeal to modern global consumers. Miki teamed up with Japanese and American designers to develop bags made from textiles she had handwoven. It won’t be long until bags made from the cloth she poured her heart and soul into go on sale in Japan and around the world.