matohu matohu



“Hence, many clouds rise up, and the land is called Izumo." (from the Izumo-no-kuni Fudoki, “Records of the customs and land of Izumo")

The clouds rise up and even form layers in Izumo, whose two kanji characters mean “appearing" and “clouds." Izumo was given its name by a Shinto god long before recorded history. When we traveled here as well, over and over we experienced the rain clouds closing in, then a light rain falling followed by the skies clearing just a bit and white clouds floating up to the sky.
 Izumo is an ancient land of myth, and many things here still retain this feel, centered around Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine. Izumo is blessed with plentiful foods from the mountains and the sea, historical buildings and crafts used in daily life. Even today, things that can only be made here are preserved by people's hands.
 Here's just one example. Tsutsugaki is a resist dying technique where designs are drawn on cloth with rice paste from a tube, which is then dyed by submerging it in a vat of Japanese indigo more than 10 times. When the paste is carefully washed away in a river at the end, brilliant white designs show up against deep blue cloth.
 Yuzen is another resist dyeing technique, but was only for the samurai class and wealthy merchants. In contrast, tsutsugaki was a dyeing technique accessible to the commonfolk.

 Previously, every town in Japan had many indigo workshops called koya, and tsutsugaki dyeing was exceedingly common. With the advent of chemical dyes, however, the indigo workshops fell into decline in the 20th century, and the crafts that went along with them also began to fade away. Today, almost no artisans remain who do authentic tsutsugaki dyeing. Nagata Dyeing Factory is the only workshop of its kind left in Izumo.

We went to see preserved examples of old tsutsugaki dyeing at the Izumo Folk Crafts Museum. There were auspicious designs with cranes and turtles as well as pine, bamboo and plum dyed on cotton furoshiki traditional wrapping cloth. The charming patterns and the strong, spare lines that can only be created by hand were especially enchanting. Just looking at them felt like a soothing balm on our hearts.
 Parents used to custom order wrapping cloths, futon covers and oil cloths for dressers that would go into their daughter's dowry. These were special items drawn and dyed with patterns that represented their hopes for their daughter's happiness in marriage. When a grandchild was born, the parents would send gifts such as bathing cloths, cloths used for carrying the baby and cloth diapers dyed in the tsutsugaki technique. We saw one curious pattern in the displayed items. It was an anchor bound with a thick rope on a cloth diaper. Why would an anchor be drawn on a baby's diaper?

 In the olden days, one out of three infants would die before they reached the age of five. What despair parents who lost a young child must have felt. With the wish to safely secure their baby's fragile life in this world, they had an anchor drawn on the diapers that covered its little bottom.
 Events like epidemics and wars that are beyond people's ability to control frequently happen regardless of the era. The current times are certainly no exception. Is there anyone who does not pray for peace and safety when the future is so uncertain? Tsutsugaki dyes people's fervent prayers in cloth.

We discovered many different kinds of handiwork on our trip to Izumo, all born from gratitude for things that help us live. Just as the skies make clouds that cause rain to fall and grow crops, we used to believe in the enduring existence of such things without question. People today, however, have lost sight of many of these.
 In Izumo, there are people who live alongside the gods, and whose life and work are twisted together like a straw rope. Here, we could see the gratitude and prayer that go back to the beginnings of humanity.