Young, Inspired and Passing the Thread of Tradition

Clack, clack, swish, swish--the warm sounds of the loom make their rounds of the corners of the workshop's quiet. The weaver is Akiko Imazumi. A novice with promise, it was three years ago that she set foot into the world of silk weaving known as Yuki Tsumugi.
Yuki Tsumugi is a traditional craftwork produced in Oyama City and Ibaraki Prefecture's Yuuki City and other areas along the Kinugawa River.
The hand woven silk is characterized by its soft texture and dye patterns referred to as kasuri.
The tradition began as a side job for farmers and grew in popularity. The crafting techniques became perfected, producing a light and elegant finish that would be sought after as luxury items in the Edo period.
The techniques have been handed down, passing through the generations to reach the artisans of today. The floss silk is hand spun, then wrapped and dyed so the pattern will emerge when finished on a special hand loom called a jibata. This particular process called Honba Yuuki Tsumugi(*), and is officially recognized and protected. Some of the many processes are valued to the point that they have been registered with UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, however, the reality is that fewer and fewer new weavers are taking up the trade.

In order to keep the tradition of Yuuki Tsumugi alive, Oyama city in 2014 instituted the official title of "Tsumugi Artisan" and hired Akiko Imaizumi for the position. Ms. Imaizumi studied dying at university thinking she would like to work in textiles in the future. Of the prospect she said, "[i]t was a terribly frightening responsibility. Yet, I wanted to do my part to preserve this heritage, so I jumped into it wholeheartedly."

This is her third year in study as a Tsumugi artisan. She spends her days both as an apprentice under the traditional craftsman/ craftswoman husband and wife of Noriaki and Akiko Sakairi, and doing PR work for Oyama City's Industry Promotion Division to promote the Yuki Tsumugi. "It is said that it takes at least 10 years to become skilled in any of the processes, and I must admit that I still have quite a ways to go. I have come to understand how great the masters of this craft truly are," Imaizumi said. She is attempting the pre-dye wrapping for the first time, working the shuttle in a struggle to keep the pattern aligned.

Now that Ms. Imaizumi has learned the major processes, her enthusiasm to pursue the craft only grows stronger, but she says she has also looks to take on the challenge from a different angle. ""I of course need to perfect the techniques, but I know I need to make Yuki Tsumugi more a part of the society."" At the Oyama Honba Yuki Tsumugi Craft Hall which opened in front of Oyama station, visitors are able to the experience just how good it feels to wear a Honba Yuki Tsumugi kimono. The visitors there make comments on how light, or warm or pretty the kimonos are, giving a outlet for direct feedback. Imaizumi hopes that she can keep supporting places like this.
It is also her wish to bring producers together. It the process of creating Yuki Tsumugi it is common that the individual jobs of those who spin the silk, the dyers and the weavers on up do their jobs without ever having seen the faces of the workers coming before or after. As just one person along the path to the final product, it is often she wonders of the unseen workers, thinking, ""this thread is easy to weave, who is tying this one?"" Although this way of doing things has become matter of fact, Imaizumi muses, ""If the process was more open, those involved would surely want to do better and be happier for it. And the local silkworm farmers would likely also want to stay."" From that experience, she wants to bridge the connections of those involved in the process to encourage more pride and joy in their work.
In these three years, she has woven seven Tsumugi bolts. She has put all she is into each and each new one will be a new challenge.
Clack, clack, swish, swish. With every pass of the shuttle, she gets closer to the essence of Honba Yuki Tsumugi.

*Honba Yuki Tsumugi:
A process of silk weaving that is done entirely by hand from the thread spinning through the weaving; and is treated separately from the broader term of Yuki Tsumugi.

Akiko Imaizumi
Born in Tochigi city. At home with cloth and handicrafts, she majored in dyeing at university. When considering her options after graduation, she learned of the recruitment of Oyama City of the "Tsumugi Artisan" position and endeavored to become a weaver of Honba Yuuki Tsumugi. The training period was four years. She plans to continue working with Honba Yuuki Tsumugi by teaching the younger apprentices and doing and PR activity. Her goal as an artisan is her instructors, the traditional craftsman husband and wife of Mr. and Mrs. Sakairi.
The People of Tochigi