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Nishijin

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  • Japanese: 西陣 (Nishijin)

Nishijin is a neighborhood of Kyoto, centered on Funaoka-yama, which is perhaps the most famous center of textile production in Japan.

The neighborhood's name, literally meaning "western [military] encampment," derives from it being the area where Yamana Sôzen's so-called "Western Army" was based during the Ônin War (1467-77).

At the beginning of the 16th century, the Nishijin textile guild consisted of only 31 member households, but by Genroku (c. 1700), there may have been as many as 70,000 people living or working in the neighborhood,[1] and it is estimated that at its height in the Edo period, Nishijin's textile industry may have employed as many as 100,000 people, including weavers, spinners, dyers, and others. There were at this time roughly 7,000 takabata "high looms," which were used to produce the highest quality textiles, and which required two operators at a time; most textiles were produced using the single-operator hirahata, or "flat looms." As late as 1715, the district operated chiefly on silk thread imported from China, but sericulture expanded dramatically over the course of the 18th century, allowing a switchover to domestic thread, as commanded by the shogunate in 1713.[1] Nishijin families quickly consolidated their control over the industry in a vertical manner, establishing or taking over operations of silkworm cultivation, silk spinning, weaving, and dyeing, as well as the sewing done within Nishijin itself, and the retail and wholesale operations.

While Nishijin gradually lost its near-monopolistic hold on the industry as spinning, weaving, dyeing, etc. operations began to sprout up in the provinces, Nishijin families enjoyed the patronage of the shogunate, Imperial court, and many daimyô, and was able to maintain a reputation for providing the highest-quality, most elite materials and garments.[2] Many of the families which were most prominent in Nishijin in the Edo period remain the most prominent and powerful families today.

Though at the start of the Bakumatsu period (1850s) Japan lagged behind China and several European countries in silk production, it rapidly caught up and surpassed most other countries. For the entire length of the Meiji period (1868-1912), roughly half of all of Japan's exports were textiles or textile-related products, and by 1938, Japan controlled roughly four-fifths of world silk production.[3]

Following the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Nishijin began importing European "modern" equipment, adapting it to their needs, and adapting their techniques and products, to some extent, to the equipment and to shifts in demands. Nishijin's production remained focused primarily, if not exclusively, on traditional-style garments, i.e. kimono and the like, but the district began to make use of new dyes, new materials, and new techniques in its production of such traditional products. Many in the district also began to experiment with different materials and styles that might appeal more to foreign buyers.[3]

References

  • Moriya, Katsuhisa. "Urban Networks and Information Networks." in Chie Nakane and Shinzaburô Ôishi (eds.) Tokugawa Japan: The Social and Economic Antecedents of Modern Japan. University of Tokyo Press, 1990. p98.
  • Nishijin Textile Center Official Website (English).
  1. 1.0 1.1 Marius Jansen, China in the Tokugawa World, Harvard University Press (1992), 39-40.
  2. As early as the Genroku period, there were seven Nishijin families which served the shogunate as goyô shônin (official purveyors), and 160 who served various daimyô in the same capacity, maintaining these relationships in many cases throughout the period. Jansen, 40.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Conant, Ellen. "Cut from Kyoto Cloth: Takeuchi Seihô and his Artistic Milieu." Impressions 33 (2012). p74.
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