KOKURA Creation



Kokura-ori, the Lost Textile Revived for the Modern Age

☆ Clean Vertical Stripes of Kokura-ori

Kokura-ori, which has a modern feel even amidst its traditional Japanese character ■Kokura-ori, which has a modern feel even amidst its traditional Japanese character

“In Kyushu, all roads lead to Kokura.” The modern Fukuoka Prefecture city of Kitakyushu is the starting point of Kyushu’s five old main roads, including the Nagasaki Kaido and the Nakatsu Kaido. Since ancient times, it has been the gateway to Kyushu, and a melting pot of diverse cultures. As you walk through the streets, you will come across many patterns of vertical stripes – on sidewalk paving stones, building interiors, and even on the paper bags used by the department stores. These vertical stripes, which blend in with the surroundings and draw people in, are actually based on Kokura-ori, a textile that enjoyed great popularity as a traditional craft of the region in the Edo Period (1603-1868).

Kokura-ori is a thick, strong textile that is smooth to the touch. In the Edo Period, it was prized among the samurai class as a fabric for hakama (long pleated skirt worn over the kimono) and obi (a broad sash for the kimono). There are even written records of the famous leader, Tokugawa Ieyasu, wearing a haori coat made of Kokura-ori fabrics while out falconing. The most prominent feature of Kokura-ori is the vertical stripes, in which a three-dimensional effect is created using only the different shades of color. Because the warp is three times denser than the weft, it creates a clean pattern of vertical stripes and a soft, almost suede-like texture.

Kokura-ori’s origins lie in the booming cotton farming industry of the ancient province of Buzen (the area stretching from what is now the eastern part of today’s Kitakyushu City into the northern part of Oita Prefecture). At its peak, there are believed to have been 10,000 families that spun the cotton into thread, and 3,000 families that wove those threads into hakama and obi. With the changing times, however, its popularity gradually faded, until eventually, a tradition that had continued for more than 350 years was lost in the early Showa Period (around the mid-1920s to 1930s).

Paving stones on Katsuyama Bridge, which spans the Murasaki River that runs through the center of the city. ■Paving stones on Katsuyama Bridge, which spans the Murasaki River that runs through the center of the city.
The design motif of the interiors of the RIHGA Royal Hotel Kokura is based on Kokura-ori. ■The design motif of the interiors of the RIHGA Royal Hotel Kokura is based on Kokura-ori.

☆ The “Lost Textile” Revived, Transcending Space and Time

Textile artist, Noriko Tsuiki ■Textile artist, Noriko Tsuiki
The remnant of Kokura-ori cloth that sparked that fateful encounter is still a treasured possession. ■The remnant of Kokura-ori cloth that sparked that fateful encounter is still a treasured possession.

“Falling in love at first sight with a textile from the area in which I was born and raised was a very happy encounter.” Textile artist, Noriko Tsuiki’s extraordinary passion for Kokura-ori shines through when she speaks. Inspired by the theater arts that she majored in at university, Ms. Tsuiki became fascinated with Japan’s classical entertainment styles such as kabuki and kyogen. A frequent attender of Noh performances, she was gradually drawn into the world of the Noh costumes and their beautiful colors. Returning to her hometown of Kokura, Ms. Tsuiki embarked on a journey to become a textile artist. It was while she was on a research visit to an antique store that she had a fateful encounter. “It was a strange remnant of cloth that looked like cotton, but seemed to be too glossy to be cotton,” she recalls. After having it analyzed at an industrial testing laboratory, she eventually discovered the true identity of this remnant. It was a piece of Kokura-ori cloth that had been so well used that it had become as smooth as suede.

We delved into Ms. Tsuiki’s tale of innovation and inventiveness in reviving this once-lost skill and adapting it to the modern age. “It is wonderful that the original textiles take on such a lovely texture after many years of use, but in the modern age, it’s difficult to use textiles for such a long time, isn’t it? For this reason, I had to make the finished product something that would come as close as possible to that well-used feel.” By using finer threads and increasing the number of warp threads used, Ms. Tsuiki succeeded in breathing new, contemporary life into a traditional skill. She also pours her passion into the dyeing process, using natural materials that she collects herself to create soft, lustrous colors. “To create bright, clear colors, I actually discard the first lot of dye after it’s boiled.”

Ms. Tsuiki hard at work weaving on the loom. “As I weave, my own heart is woven into the textile.” Ms. Tsuiki hard at work weaving on the loom. “As I weave, my own heart is woven into the textile.” ■Ms. Tsuiki hard at work weaving on the loom. “As I weave, my own heart is woven into the textile.”

“Even the sound of the rain looks like stripes.” Within the distinctive constraints of stripes, in which the only room for innovation is in color and balance, Ms. Tsuiki finds inspiration for her work in the everyday sights, sounds, and smells around her. The piercing rays of the morning sun, birdsong heralding the changing seasons – all of these things stimulate her five senses and later become part of her work. “Vertical stripes are a universal design found all over the world. However, Kokura-ori is the only textile in which the warp thread protrudes to create the stripe pattern.” Ms. Tsuiki’s passion for this “lost textile” permeates her words.

Ms. Tsuiki’s creations, which have a rhythm even in their silence. ■Ms. Tsuiki’s creations, which have a rhythm even in their silence.
Ms. Tsuiki’s studio in an old traditional Japanese house nestled in the hills. The neighborhood offers an abundance of raw materials for dyes. ■Ms. Tsuiki’s studio in an old traditional Japanese house nestled in the hills. The neighborhood offers an abundance of raw materials for dyes.

☆ Picturing a Future for Kokura-ori – Taking on the Challenge of the World

A new history, created by fusing the traditions built up by our predecessors with the sensibilities of the modern age. To convey Kokura-ori as a textile for today’s lifestyles, such as interior design, fashion, and zakka, Kokura Creation Co., based in Kokurakita-ku in Kitakyushu, established the KOKURA SHIMA-SHIMA brand, with Ms. Tsuiki as design supervisor. The use of a wide-format machine loom to weave Kokura-ori’s strong and beautiful vertical stripes into 140-cm wide fabric has opened up many new possibilities.