Chijimi is a hemp fabric with a cool sensation, coming from a region with heavy snowfall. It has an unusual crinkled surface, known as shibo. The fabric has high absorbency, is quick-drying, and breathes well. It is very comfortable and an ideal fabric for use in the hot and humid Japanese summer. The yarn comes from a natural ramie material called choma. With the strongly twisted weft, the shibo surface is created by crumpling the woven fabric in hot water.
A hemp fabric called Echigo-jofu has been produced in the Uonuma region of Niigata Prefecture for well over 200 years. Since ancient times it has been famous for its superb quality, and an example tendered as tax in the mid-eighth century exists in the Shoso-in, in Nara. It is said that in the early Edo period, about 1670, one Horijiro Masatoshi moved to Ojiya from the Akashi domain in Harima, bringing the technique of twisting the weft to make shibo, and that chijimi was created by applying this to an existing hemp fabric. The feel and the pure white colour are made by snow-bleaching. The fabric has a high reputation as a material for katabira, a thin, light, single layer summer kimono. Ojiya-chijimi was designated the official material for court dress under the Shogunate. Its reputation meant that manufacturing spread widely among villages in the region. In the Tenmei era (1781-1788), some 200,000 tan of this fabric are said to have been produced annually in the Echigo region. One tan is the length required to produce one kimono, or approximately 38cm x 12.5m.
Nowadays, the yarn is made by both traditional hand-spinning with choma ramie, and by machine-spinning. Fabrics are categorised under one of the following three designations: National Important Intangible Cultural Properties, or as Important Intangible Cultural Properties designated by Ojiya City, or again as Traditional Crafts designated by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. A fourth category is for anything other than those above. Criteria for designation under these categories are selection of yarns, spinning method, technique to make the splashed pattern called kasuri, and loom type.
Suzuki Bokushi wrote in his Hokuetsu-seppu, of 1837,
Make yarn and weave in the snowy season, wash with snow-melted water and expose on snow.
Chijimi exists because of snow, and Echigo-chijimi is a masterpiece of collaboration between the human spirit and the elements.
Snow in Uonuma is the mother of chijimi.
Nishiwaki Shoten was first established as the wholesaler of chijimi and remains committed to it. This is a fabric that we understand and love. It is the foundation of our company.