While making plans for our trip to Japan (May 2012), we found out that one of the brands from our store, Nakagawa Masashichi, had a workshop demonstrating the Nara Sarashi hand weaving technique. We signed up to attend the class during our visit to Nara, hoping it would give us a better understanding of the history behind their products.
Nakagawa Masashichi is a brand that sells fabric household items that have been created using an ancient weaving technique, “Nara Sarashi”, for the last 300 years. Their products can be found at our shop here.
We were so excited to actually visit the Nakagawa Masashichi store in Nara. The store has been in the same place since the 18th century.
Our visit began with a lunch at a small cafe inside their store. The lunch consisted of three layered bento boxes filled with traditional local delicacies. We were amazed to find out that we were eating out of antiques.
After the lunch we proceeded to the workshop. The purpose was to get to know the general process of how the original hemp plant became a piece of thread and then fabric. The workshop was conducted in a fun manner by an instructor who works at Nakagawa Masashichi.
It was held inside a barn filled with weaving machines and old looking contraptions. It felt like we were back in the 1700s.
Our instructor began with a short lecture on the history of the company and quality of their products. Then came the workshop part.
We started with the process of making a thread. Every thread starts with dry hemp leaves.
We took one and tore it into two pieces by pressing and rubbing down the middle of the leaf with a thumb nail. We repeated the process until we had some fine strands.
We then followed the instructor as she showed us how to twist the two strands into one thread. This process would continue until a long yarn was created. Gladly, we did not go all the way through that time consuming work.
We all found that combining the threads into one was the most difficult and intricate part of the entire process of making Nara Sarashi. Producing a very fine thread requires experience, skill and patience.
The instructor told us that elderly people were more suitable for this task than young people. We all agreed. We had no patience.
Next, we moved on to the actual machine used to weave the hemp fabric.
The instructor demonstrated how the hands and feet should move at certain times to operate the machine. Once learned, we could get a rhythm of hand and leg movement.
During the weaving process, the machine made a sound. This sound is needed to maintain the same rhythm at a certain speed to make good fabric. Making Nara Sarashi was a family business, so kids grew up listening to the sound the weaving machine made while their parents were working, so they were able to learn quickly and inherit the business.
The instructor explained that after the weaving was done and the fabric was complete, it would be bleached before being sold.
We only experienced a part of the process of making Nara Sarashi first hand, but we gained a greater understanding of the skill and traditional technique that goes into it. It was a lot of fun.
The entire area of the Nakagawa store in Nara used to be an epicenter of the Nara Sarashi hand woven industry. Nakagawa Masashichi’s mission is maintain the quality of Nara Sarashi and continue the technique that has been used since the ancient times. They still produce hand-woven products, such as Natural Color Coaster with Red Stripes, Natural Color Placemat with Blue Stripes, Red-Dotted Hemp Towel, Natural Color Tea Towel with Blue Stripes and more.
The small street in front of the store has the feel of history. It is true that old and modern coexist in the town of Nara, just like in all of the beautiful Nakagawa Masashichi products.