Posted:Jan 5, 2022

A Japanese Textile Town Celebrates its Heritage

Fujiyoshida hosts the first Fuji Textile Week

Shinji Ohmaki's "The Shadow of Time" at the former Suruga Bank

The town of Fujiyoshida in Yamanashi Prefecture boasts a textile tradition that goes back more than 1,000 years. Located roughly two hours from Tokyo at the foot of Mt. Fuji, Fujiyoshida once flourished with a robust textile industry. At its height, there were some 6,000 hataya weaving shops before competition from importers dwindled their numbers to around 200 today. The art festival Fuji Textile Week is part of Fujiyoshida's efforts to reinvigorate itself. This month-long event features works by local textile manufacturers and ten contemporary artists, who present their creations in old shops, storage houses, and other venues around town.

Fujiyoshida is located at the base of Mt. Fuji.

Works by the artists Shunsuke Imai, Maison 2,3, Katsura Takasuka, and Asao Kodama can all be found at the Fujihimuro building, a former ice factory converted into a gallery at the heart of Fujiyoshida. This center is also used as a headquarters for initiatives to encourage people to move to Fujiyoshida.

Shunsuke Imai with his work "untitled" (2021) at the Fujihimuro building

Shunsuke Imai displays his "untitled" series of colorfully striped acrylic paintings and a matching polyester cloth, which he designed in collaboration with local hataya. "I wanted to explore the relationship between textiles and paintings," he says.

Maison 2,3 (pronounced "maison two comma three") is a two-person team formed by Koshiro Ebata and Hiroyuki Mizuno at the end of 2019. They create artworks and products with a focus on sustainable design. "Eye" is a large sphere they made out of discarded T-shirts and styrofoam. Its surface is covered in Japanese characters for common words like "sea" (うみ) and can be touched and rolled around by visitors.

"Eye" by maison 2,3 at the Fujihimuro building

Katsura Takasuka studied textile design in university. His installation "Memory" comprises a group of sculptures that reflect on the ways people use objects to pass down knowledge. The works are inspired by the mongami Jacquard cards once used for creating weaving patterns.

"Memory" by Katsura Takasuka at the Fujihimuro building

Fujiyoshida today is an interesting mix of old and new. Stylish restaurants and stores are popping up amid shuttered shops and centuries-old shrines. The cafe Kissa Lemon, which opened in the fall of 2021, offers snacks, light meals, lemon beer, and natural wines from Yamanashi. It also features an impressive wall mural of Mt. Fuji.

Saruya Hostel graced the scene in 2015. In addition to welcoming guests with rooms outfitted in products made in collaborations with local businesses, it hosts an artist residency program and regular art exhibitions.

Neon sign for Kissa Lemon cafe

Now more than 70 years old, the former storage house Kura no Ie is currently used as an exhibition space and music studio. For Fuji Textile Week, it is home to shows by two artists.

An oil-on-canvas painting in Yoriko Takabatake's "Cave" series at Kura no Ie

Yoriko Takabatake has installed her "Cave" paintings upstairs and downstairs in Kura no Ie's first building, arranging them unceremoniously on the wooden walls and shelves next to old buckets and bowls. Takabatake was interested in the canvas as a textile. She worked with a Fujiyoshida weaving studio to produce her all-white works, which use layers of plaster to highlight the texture of canvas.

Yumi Kori's "Tsumugu" installation at Kura no Ie

Occupying three floors of a second building, Yumi Kori's "Tsumugu" installation, created with the Austrian composer Bernhard Gal, manipulates light and sound to evoke memories of textile production in the past. (”Tsumugu" means to spin or weave.) The first floor exhibits a shoji sliding door with eerie blue light shining in the darkness as the sound of working looms fills the space. On the second level, the same blue light wanes and brightens to reveal hundreds of balloons – bulbous forms representing silk cocoons. Climb the narrow stairs up to the third story and you'll find laser-like lines of the blue light spread across the room, reminiscent of pieces of yarn pulled taut.

The Nikoru Kissaten building

Nikoru Kissaten was a bustling cafe some 40 years ago. Its building has long been vacant, but vestiges of its wallpaper and round original windows offer glimpses of the past.

Here Katsura Takasuka has installed his "Species" sculptures. These beings resemble bears or other hulking, upright creatures. Their "fur" is in fact made with thousands of crimson kuttsuki-mushi burrs. Takasuka wanted to shift the viewer's mindset away from a human-centric one toward the "cunning and fathomless power that nature possesses."

Katsura Takasuka's "Species" inside the former Nikoru Kissaten

Sumire Yosoten sold Western-style clothes for nearly seven decades before closing its doors a few years back. Its 99-year-old proprietress has temporarily turned it over to the Berlin-based artist Aiko Tezuka, who displays her own fabric pieces along with photos and objects from the shop-owner's past in the installation "Loosening Fabric #6 100 Years – The Seams of Memory." Tezuka has long been interested in weaving and embroidery as expressions of the pictoral arts. The "rewinding of time" and ”contemplation of possibilities of not chosen" are themes in her works exploring how things are made and unmade.

Owner of the Sumire Yosoten clothing shop (right) and the artist Aiko Tezuka (left). Tezuka's work flows from the wall to the floor.

One of the pieces in Tezuka's exhibition is an embroidered rendering of the word "Gachaman." The term is a nod to Fujiyoshida's moneyed past, when each clack of a loom (the sound is called "gacha" in Japanese) was said to earn a single "man" (10,000 yen).

"Gachaman" embroidery (part of Aiko Tezuka's installation "Loosening Fabric #6 100 Years – The Seams of Memory")

Just across the street from Sumire Yosoten is the former Suruga Bank. Vacant for decades, the building has been reopened as a key site for Fuji Textile Week. Its first level exhibits the accomplished installation artist Shinji Ohmaki's "The Shadow of Time." This hypnotic work is composed simply of a black, gauzy cloth that floats and shape shifts in the air as vents on the floor propel it upward. The undulating fabric creates a meditative scene linking material and imagination.

Shinji Ohmaki's "The Shadow of Time" at the former Suruga Bank

The "Warp & Weft" exhibition by 16 Fujiyoshida textile makers was held upstairs from Ohmaki's installation from December 10 to December 12. It showcased 100 examples of weaving designs from the Taisho and Showa eras (early-to-late 1900s), plus merchandise by currently active local companies. You can learn more about Yamanashi textile makers and even order some of their products here.

Vintage textile designs displayed at the former Suruga Bank
Merchandise by local textile firms

The roof of the building features Yoshinari Nishio's installation "Uraji/Ura-Fuji" (Lining/The Other Side of Fuji). You can stick your head through one of the holes in the expansive fabric for a one-of-a-kind view of Mt. Fuji.

Outside of Akihito Okunaka's "Inter-World/Sphere"

Akihito Okunaka is an international artist with experience as a play-focused art instructor. His "Inter-World/Sphere" is a giant inflatable dome made from polyethylene film. Visitors are invited to crawl inside and spend time relaxing in the space, which changes colors depending on the weather and light. Okunaka wanted to create an environment where people could gather and "weave together" stories from their unique experiences and perspectives. (COVID-19 precautions are in place).

Inside Akihito Okunaka's "Inter-World/Sphere"

On December 9, 2021, an opening reception was held for participating artists, textile makers, and others involved with Fuji Textile Week. Director Fumio Nanjo and Fujiyoshida Mayor Shigeru Horiuchi were among the attendees. The cafe/design lab FabCafe, which plans to open a Fujiyoshida branch next year, provided refreshments.

Fujiyoshida textile makers at the opening reception
Fujiyoshida’s Honcho Nichome Shotengai shopping street on Japan National Route 139

Fuji Textile Week will hold its concluding "week" from January 6 to January 9. (Exhibitions are open Thursday to Sunday only). Reservations are needed for guided tours and can be made on Peatix or by phoning Saruya Hostel. Guided tours will be held all four days. Unguided viewings will be possible on January 8 and January 9 only, from 10:00 to 16:00. The main area of Fuji Textile week is a ten-minute walk from the Shimoyoshida train station. There is also a highway bus from Shinjuku and Shibuya that will drop you off at Chuo EXPWY Shimoyoshida, a fifteen-minute walk from the festival's center.

Please see Fuji Textile Weeks's official website for details.

Jennifer Pastore

Jennifer Pastore

Jennifer Pastore is a writer, editor, and translator. She was editor of Tokyo Art Beat's web magazine from 2015 to 2022. Her thoughts on the Japanese art scene can be found in publications like artscape Japan.