Kijoka Bashofu Handmade Lion brooch
Deep into the past Okinawa and Japan’s southern islands have woven fabric from banana plants. The material, and the human skills to make bashofu were almost lost in the 20th century, and survive today largely thanks the preservation society based in Kijoka, in north Okinawa.
It is painstaking and difficult to first make the threads from the indigenous banana plants, and then to dye and weave them. Bashofu is a light fabric, used for distinctive southern island kimono, woven into traditional patterns. These patterns, such as Namigata (waves), Kazaguruma (windmills) or Sutichinfa (sago palm leaves), are themselves design classics in showing motifs from southern island life.
While they once struggled for raw material, the biggest problem for the Kijoka preservation society today is to maintain the human skills needed to make bashofu. Their most famous practitioner, Toshiko Taira, is 98 this year. But through Taira’s efforts, and those who work with her, Okinawa has retained its traditional weave technique, and a thread to the past that was almost severed.