Abaca, also known as Manila hemp, is a plant belongs to banana family.
In Okinawa, which is located at the southwestern part of Japan and the westernmost tip, it is said that mothers and daughters have planted this tree in their gardens or fields to make clothes for themselves since 13th century.
The fineness of Kijoka Bashofu was known to people all around the world in early-modern times, and it became one of the main traditional textile in Okinawa.
The production method requires perseverance and hard work. First of all, we need abaca trees grown for 3 years. Peel the skins to take out the inside, and split them to categorize in 4 groups by the softness of the fibers.
Then the fibers are boiled with wood ashes, and pulled through scissor-like tool made of bamboo to remove dusts. The length of the threads are mostly 1m (40inches), so each threads are split gauntly, and then tied each other.
Twisted, dyed, and woven same as other traditions, but after the weaving the clothes again soaked into lye of wood ashes then rice vinegar, washed off, and the form is made in good shape by artisans’ hands.
As the procedure suggests, it is very difficult to treat this thread and thus to make fabric from this thread needs skillful artisans. However, the refreshing atmosphere and actual lightness and well-dried (easily evaporates) texture have been loved by people even though cottons and silks, which are easier to weave, are available.
In Ryukyu dynasty, Kijoka Bashofu was even presented as the highest grade tribute to China and Tokugawa shogunate.
Kijoka Bashofu was designated as Traditional Craft by METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) in 1988.