Miyako jōfu is a woven fabric made from hand-spun ramie thread that is dyed with Ryukyu indigo, which gains its deep color through a process of natural dye fermentation. Characterized by delicate criss-cross patterns that are created by tying threads together by hand or with a machine known as “kasuri shimebara”, Miyako jōfu has a luster and texture unlike other textiles found in Okinawa, and was widely regarded before WWII as one of the four major jōfu of Japan. The fabric, held in high regard as a luxury indigo textile that rendered superior summer kimono, earned particular reference in a saying, “Echigo if in the east, Miyako jōfu if in the west”.
The origins of this fabric can be traced back to 1583, when it was first created by a woman named Toji Inaishi. In 1610, Miyako jōfu became a commodity to be paid in lieu of taxes to the royal government of the Ryukyu Kingdom, and then as tribute presented to Satsuma (present-day Kagoshima prefecture). Land tax reform allowed the free production and sale of Miyako jōfu, which paved the way for the fabric to be established as a commercial product around 1923, with industry output peaking at some 17,000 kimono worth of jōfu. Its recognition as a traditional craft product by the prefecture of Okinawa on June 11th, 1974 was followed by designation as a national traditional craft on February 17th, 1975. In addition, Miyako jōfu was certified as an important intangible cultural asset by the Japanese government on April 26th, 1978.
|Material||Hand-spun ramie thread|
|Place of manufacture||Miyako-jima City, Tarama Village|
|Partnership name and date of establishment||Miyako Textile Business Cooperative Association, August 16th, 1958|
|Date designated by national||February 17th, 1975|
|Date designated by prefecture||June 11th, 1976|
|Source||*Source: "An Outline of Promotion Strategies for the Craft Industry"; official website of Miyako Textile Business Cooperative Association (http://miyako-joufu.com)|
The entire process of producing Miyako jōfu from cultivation of the raw material, the ramie plant, to the binding and weaving of the fabric is done on Miyako Island. However, significant changes to the island’s social infrastructure in the aftermath of WWII had a great impact on the processes of hand-binding ramie thread and other stages of fabric production, which are extremely labor intensive. Today, the scale and production volume of Miyako jōfu’s production has been reduced to a mere fraction of its pre-war levels. The “Miyako Textile Business Cooperative Association” was established in 1958 in a bid to revive waning production, and in 1977, the “Miyako Traditional Craft Research Center” was established as the core organization for promotion of the industry. In 2008, “Miyako jōfu” became a regional industry trademark, which helped to diversify its product line to include items such as purses and accessory pouches.