Ojiya Chijimi

These stunning images show how craftsmen keep their UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage alive during the coldest months of the year.

Without snow there is no Ojiya Chijimi. It’s a fact that’s well-known in the Ojiya region of Niigata Prefecture, a place known for its wide, open fields and unusually heavy snowfall. There’s a rich cultural heritage here,  and the community is dedicated to keeping it alive, especially when it comes to the local textile tradition of Ojiya Chijimi, which literally translates to “Ojiya Shrinkage”, the art of turning plant fibres into a distinct fabric with the help of sun and snow.

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There are many painstaking steps involved in the traditional process, which involves hand-picking stalks of the ramie plant, extracting the fibres, 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 called a “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.

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

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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.

To see the hand-woven fabrics being laid out in the snow, check out the captivating videos below.

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!

And if you love anime as well as fashion, you may be interested to see some of the high-fashion designs that inspired Sailor Moon character outfits. They haven’t been granted UNESCO status yet, but we wouldn’t be surprised if they were one day!

Source: Japaaan
Top Image: Youtube/Chuoeigasha
Screenshots: Youtube/Chuoeigasha, Youtube/PandaStudioNiigata