Hakata Ori – Experiencing the Traditional Weaving of Fukuoka

Photo: Hakata Old Town is the name of the old Hakata merchant district which sits between the Mikasa and Naka Rivers. Photo taken by author.

Hakata Ori – Experiencing the Traditional Weaving of Fukuoka

Stuart Iles

I have been living in Fukuoka City for about a year now and I am slowly settling into my new surroundings. I am learning a lot about old Fukuoka (which was once known as Hakata) and its amazing history. Back in the 13th century Hakata was the biggest and busiest trading port in Japan due to its close location to Korea and China. Dazaifu City, just 10 or so kilometers southeast of the centre of town, was the old imperial capital in western Japan which hosted Chinese and Korean diplomats and royal delegations for centuries. Hakata was a wonderful hub of cross cultures, food, and art which can still be seen today. In this article I would like to introduce readers to a traditional handicraft known as Hakata Ori (Hakata weaving).

Hakata Ori is a special type of weaving with silk textile used to make kimonos and obis (sashes). High quality Chinese silk matched with the weaving style of Hakata Ori was unmatched in the whole of Japan. During the Edo Period when lords of Fukuoka visited Edo, the old capital of Japan, they presented the Tokugawa Shogun with Hakata Ori textiles, including kimonos and obis. Hakata Ori became the choice textile for wealthy merchants, samurai and the ruling class in Japan. Let’s look how Hakata Ori began and became so famous.

Traditional hand looms and tools used to make Hakata Ori products. Manufacturing has now been modernized but it’s nice to see how things used to be made.

In 1235 a young Hakata merchant named Mitsuda Yazaemon traveled to Sung China to study various Sung traditions including weaving, manju (Chinese sweet bun) making and ceramics. Silk weaving was a very sought after skill and very lucrative during the Kamakura Era. The noble class established themselves among the Japanese elite and began to grow as did their thirst for luxury goods. Mitsuda returned to Hakata in 1241 at the perfect time and established a weaving business. Over time, various members of Mitsuda’s family returned to China to study silk weaving and over the span of a few hundred years the weaving techniques were mastered to what we can see today.

As I mentioned above, Hakata Ori proved ideal for making traditional obis. The material was durable and remained tight once done up, yet easy to undo. The obi was especially useful for samurai who had to tuck their swords into their kimono which was held tight against the body.

Hakata Ori textiles come with various designs and colours.

As the era of wearing kimonos has long past Hakata Ori manufactures have now increased the range of goods that we can purchase that are useful today. Bags, coin pouches, card holders, wallets, purses and men’s ties are found with beautiful Hakata Ori designs and colours.

Hakata Ori products have evolved for the modern day and offers a nice range of stylish goods. 

You can find Hakata Ori products at Hakataori Kougeikan Sanui Textile Company in Nishiku (tours are also available here), Hakata Machiya Furusatokan in downtown Hakata opposite Kushida Shrine (you can also visit a small museum here) and there is a shop in JR Hakata City specializing in Hakata Ori products.

When you come to Fukuoka please enjoy “Hakata Old Town” and Fukuoka’s traditional handicrafts. Please visit my blog for more Japanese history articles.