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How Do You Bleach Kimono Fabrics? With Snow!

World Heritage Handicrafts Weaving Snow Niigata

Without snow there is no Ojiya Chijimi. It’s a fact that’s well-known in the Ojiya region of Niigata Prefecture, a place renowned for open fields and unusually heavy snowfall. There’s a rich cultural heritage and the community is dedicated to keeping it alive, especially when it comes to the local textile tradition of Ojiya Chijimi.

Ojiya Shrinkage, or Ojiya Chijimi, is the art of turning plant fibers into a distinct fabric with the help of sun and snow.

There are many painstaking steps involved in the traditional process, which involves hand-picking stalks of the ramie plant, extracting the fibers, fastening the threads together, and then hand weaving the fabric on a traditional ground loom. Spinning the thread tightly during the weaving process creates a distinctive crease or shibo, which brings a smooth, cool feel to the fabric when worn. Once the cloth has been taken off the loom, it’s then washed in hot water and massaged with the feet. The last step in the process is to take the wet fabric outside, placing it on the snow for ten to twenty days, where it will be lightened by the elements.

The snow increases light reflection from the sun and accelerates ozone production, which helps to lighten the colors of the fabric. During this period, fields in the area look like beautiful outdoor art pieces, with long, colorful bolts of fabric standing out against the pure white snow.

While the tradition has a history which stems back to the 17th century, the fabrics made using this process are still popular today, with the light, cool material often used in summer kimono, cushion covers, and bedding. The craft is a perfect display of harmony between nature and the community, as the fabric born in winter brings its cooling touch to the locals even in the heat of the warm summer months.

We have to say, the process is as beautiful as the fashion items made with this cloth. We’re certainly glad the local cloth producers are keeping this UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage alive after all these centuries!

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