Nishijin-Ori (Kimono Fabric) History
Nishijin weaving was created in Kyoto over 1200 years ago by using many different types
of colored yarns and weaving them together into decorative designs. These specialized
procedures are tedious, but necessary to obtain the spectacular design needed to ensure
the quality of Nishijin weaving.
According to Kyoto City Web at the turn of the 8th century, in 794, Kyoto, also known
as "Heian-kyo" was introduced as the capital of Japan. Soon after the productivity of
the Nishijin increased. This increased productivity was brought on in order to provide
the Imperial court and aristocracy with the materials they needed. However, the need
for the materials began to decrease causing these skilled weavers to go into business
on their own rather than work for the textile offices.
The demand for the material continued to dwindle during the Muromachi Period due to the
Onin War. In reference to the Nishijin Textile Industrial Association in 1467, a major
disaster struck the Nishijin weaving community; almost the whole town of Kyoto was
demolished. The people of Kyoto fled for safety to nearby towns. Finally, in the 1480's
according to The Japan Atlas the Onin War ended and the Kyoto residents returned home.
Returning home and establishing residence contributed to the name Nishijin meaning west
position. This name was established due to Kyoto residents' settlement being located on
the exact piece of land the Army of Yamana Sozen had occupied during the war. (The
Japan Atlas) Another group established residence in the northern portion of Kyoto in
Shinmachi-Imadegawa. This northern group is known for producing Nerinuki. Nerinuki is a
shimmering fabric made from raw silk and scoured silk.
After the war Nishijin weaving began to thrive. The weaving community supplied and
provided materials for both the Imperials courts and the Samurai lords. This increased
their productivity leading to improvements in the product by using new procedures to
create new designs. These designs incorporated the use of the gold barcade and damask
silk that originated in Ming Dynasty, China.
During the Edo period from 1603-1836 Nishijin weaving continued to thrive. Many
Japanese studied the art and continued to pass down their trade through the generations
by the skilled professionals. Until 1837, there was an abrupt stop to the Nishijin
trade due to produce unavailability because of unproductive crops. Kyoto had fallen on
hard times and was unable to continue weaving. In addition, Japan had decided to change
their capital in 1869 and announced that Tokyo was the chosen location. This was
thought to be the end of the Nishijin trade.
In the years to come the Nishijin trade began to flourish once again. Starting in 1872
with the trip to Europe to learn from the European weaving trade. During this trip the
Europeans taught Japanese new techniques. The Japanese adapted to the use of European
methods and machinery. The Europeans taught the Japanese how to produce Jacquard loom
and the flying shuttle which are specific patterns developed for weaving.
By 1898 the Nishijin Textile trade was developed and encompassed the technology shared
by the Europeans. This marked a beginning of a new era of Nishijin weaving and
implemented the use of machinery in the Japanese trade. Nishijin has continued to be a
successful textile industry throughout the years. Today Nishijin weaving is seen more
frequently in Japanese ceremonies. The main ceremony to view this unique trade would be
in a Japanese wedding. The work of the Nishijin weave is present in the traditional
clothing of the Japanese Bride. Her traditional Kimono is beautiful and shows the
Nishijin designs that have been handed down through the generations. These traditional
designs range from scenes of nature, different breeds of birds and several different
type of flowers. There are many other products available through Nishijin weaving.
These products range from Kimono scarves, different types of Kimonos, belts, shawls,
many different types of cloth and decorations that adorn the walls of Japanese homes.