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.
Strong, spear-proof fabric to protect people
Born in the Edo period (1603-1867), Kokura-ori fabric from the northern Kyushu area is known for its beautiful stripes, soft texture and durability — unique qualities achieved by using a higher density of threads for the warp, or vertical strands in the weave.
The fabric is mainly used for men’s hakama (a type of pleated skirt worn over a kimono) and obi sash and is known to have been a favorite of the Edo shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. And today, the Kokura-ori has evolved into a new stylish face mask product.
While the fabric was widely used for hakama in the Edo period and later for boys’ school uniforms in the Meiji period (1868-1912), production of Kokura-ori ceased when poor-quality imitations of the fabric were produced and sold in the market in the early years of the Showa period (1926-1989). Fast forward to today, the fabric was revived by the hands of Noriko Tsuiki, a dyeing and weaving artisan from Kita-Kyushu City.
Tsuiki was working with other types of woven fabrics when she came across Kokura-ori. She was immediately mesmerized by the cotton fabric that holds a unique lustrous quality that cannot be found in silk. Upon finding out that the fabric is a specialty of her hometown, “I felt that I just had to make this fabric come alive again,” says Tsuiki.
Because the fabric was mainly used for men’s garments, traditional Kokura-ori are of darker shades such as black, brown and navy. Tsuiki’s handwoven works, on the other hand, feature intricate gradations of beautiful colors that make the fabrics pop out. The unique colors are achieved by using only natural materials. Dyeing the cotton threads beforehand and using more warp threads in the weaving process bring out the vivid stripes and the unique three-dimensional look on the surface of the fabric.
“Kokura Shima Shima” is a Kokura-ori brand produced by Tsuiki. Using machine weaving technology, the brand develops various fabrics with one-of-a-kind color tones and designs while preserving the traditional characteristics of Kokura-ori. Aimed at introducing the fabric to new audiences in and outside of Japan, the brand creates products ranging from home decor such as table cloths, cushion covers to fashion items like ties and bags. The products have gained popularity among both domestic and overseas customers.
Face masks were born out of an immediate demand from the locals as more became wary about the coronavirus (COVID-19) spreading across Japan. “In the Edo period, Kokura-ori fabrics were known to be so durable that you couldn’t put a spear through them,” says Mio Tsuiki, Tsuiki’s niece and the managing director of the brand Kokura Shima Shima. “The durability, coupled with its glossiness that increases after washing, makes the fabric ideal for face masks,” Mio adds.
Made with 100% cotton, Kokura-ori feels soft against the skin and is less likely to cause skin irritations. The face masks are designed with diagonal stripes, creating a sleek look around the facial outlines. “I hope these durable Kokura-ori masks can protect people in these days of unrest,” Mio says.
Fabric face mask: 2,000 yen
Make-your-own face mask kit (includes Kokura-ori fabric, gauze and ear straps): 1,000 yen
*Currently only available within Japan
[Continue to Part 2]