TRADITION
2020.06.10

Face masks woven with Japanese tradition―2

As face masks become an everyday necessity around the world, products that encapsulate the beauty and craftsmanship of Japanese woven fabrics are drawing attention. Let’s discover two Japanese masks that combine unique styles with great comfort and functionality.
<Continued from Part 1

Appreciating the ancient wisdom in harmony with nature

This face mask with a soft, natural feel is made with shina-ori, one of the oldest form of woven fabrics in Japan. Known as one of the three Japanese “ancient fabrics” along with banana-fiber cloth from Okinawa and kudzu-fiber cloth from Shizuoka, shina-ori is woven with threads made from thin strands of linden tree barks. The fabric is currently produced only in three villages among the mountains in Yamagata and Niigata prefectures, preserving the ancient wisdom passed on through generations of living in harmony with the nature.

Residents in these areas, subjected to snow-heavy winters, have been using the local naturally-grown linden trees as tough, waterproof materials for fabrics, ropes, baskets and other everyday items. Starting with cutting down linden trees in June when the rainy season hits Japan, shina-ori fabrics are handmade through over 20 careful processes.


The rainy season adds moisture to the tree bark, making it easier to strip off. After boiling the stripped bark in lye for over 10 hours, the layer with fibers intertwined like a net appears.


The boiled tree barks are then peeled off into 10 to 20 thin layers. After being washed and soaked in rice bran for around 2 days, the layers become softer and lighter in color. After washing off the rice bran in the river, the layers are dried in the sun.

Ishidaya, a kimono and clothing store in Tsuruoka, Yamagata prefecture, started selling face masks made with shina-ori fabrics under its SHINAORI ISHIDA brand. The store, founded almost 150 years ago, started producing original shina-ori merchandise in 1990 after the fifth-generation owner Makoto Ishida first came across shina-ori fabric making that had been quietly passed down in his hometown, theretofore unknown to many.

Today, the sixth-generation owner Kohei Ishida is in charge of creating the store’s shina-ori items. Fueled by the passion to keep the tradition of shina-ori alive and tackle the shortage of successors, Kohei is continuing in his father’s path to spread the charms of shina-ori to Japanese and overseas audiences.


Stripping the dried layers of the linden bark into thread-like fibers and intertwining them into long strands is done in the winter. This extremely intricate process is done by hand and requires years of experience.


The threads are then spun, and later moisturized as they are woven into fabric. The women working on shina-ori production is an everyday scene in the village.

Kohei was inspired to create shina-ori face masks when he was given a handmade mask from one of the artisans who supplies the popular shina-ori hats at his store. The firm, sturdy quality of the shina-ori fabric is ideal for making a fitting, well-shaped face mask. As the demand for masks soared amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the store has been receiving five-times the expected amount of orders since it started selling the masks in April.

The shina-ori mask is layered with a soft cotton layer on the inside, creating a comfortable touch against the skin. Made with highly breathable materials, shina-ori masks can help alleviate the summer heat in the coming season. The item is washable and reusable, and will fit more snugly on your face upon repeated usage and washing. The gradual shift of the fabric into a deeper amber-like color and the distinct scent of linden trees add to the charm. Appreciating the functionality of natural materials and the great amount of human care put into the fabric will surely enrich our lifestyle, as wearing masks become the norm in today’s climate.

SHINAORI ISHIDA
2-23-39 Oyama, Tsuruoka-shi, Yamagata, Japan
Tel. 0235-33-2025
https://shinafu-english.com/#

Besides showcasing its products around Japan at department stores and other venues, SHINAORI ISHIDA hosts events at its own gallery, located in a renovated historic housing and garden that have been standing since the store’s founding.

Shina-ori face mask: 4,950 yen (tax inclusive)
*Currently only available within Japan

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