Nishijin-ori Patterns on Glass Plates

Glass plates with Nishijin-ori patterns

Glass plates with Nishijin-ori patterns (Left: Photo courtesy of orisho-sakai) (Right: Photo courtesy of EMURA SHOUTEN)

Nishijin-ori (literally "Nishijin fabric") is the typical style of fabric used for obi, the belt tied around the waist when wearing traditional Japanese kimono. Many people wear obi made with spectacular Nishijin-ori for celebrations and other special occasions, both in the past and in the present day. However, people have fewer opportunities to wear them regularly because of changes in their lifestyles. In light of this, there is growing attention for new products that use Nishijin-ori. Let's take a look at glass plates that incorporate the designs of Nishijin-ori while inheriting the skills and esthetics from this fabric with a long history.

So What Is Nishijin-ori?

Left: A person hand-weaving the simplest type of fabric in the Nishijin-ori style. The artisan uses a loom and coordinates hands, feet, and artistic sense to produce the fabric for obi.
Right: The inspection process after weaving (Saga brocade is shown here). The inspector looks through a magnifying glass and checks the threads with a needle. The threads have a single color but are interwoven with gold thread and silk to produce a multicolored appearance. (Photos courtesy of orisho-sakai)

Nishijin-ori is the general term for mon-orimono (fabric weaved with complex patterns using many kinds of textures and colored threads) made in Kyoto. It was originally created in the Heian period (794–1185) as a form of luxury silk fabric. Later, it developed into a fabric mainly used for obi, and it was designated as a Japanese traditional craft. The magnificent fabrics weaved in the Nishijin-ori style have raised patterns and are known by many around the world as iconic Japanese silk textiles. These fabrics are made by expert artisans in multiple separate processes, including pattern planning, thread dying, weaving, and finishing. There are many types of Nishijin-ori fabrics. For example, one type called kinran (gold brocade) is made with gold and silver threads and leaf, as well as other materials to create patterns. Tsuzure (handwoven brocade) is produced using manual techniques with the fingernails. Nishiki (brocade) is made by weaving many colored threads into different patterns. Donsu (damask) features woven patterns that stand out from the base fabric.

Left: Kinran (gold brocade) fabrics have a rich and luxurious appearance. (Photo courtesy of the Nishijin Textile Industry Association)
Right: With gold and silver threads weaved into the fabric, kinran has a highly refined aura. (Photo courtesy of EMURA SHOUTEN)

Tsuzure (handwoven brocade) is thought to be the oldest type of Nishijin-ori. (Photo courtesy of EMURA SHOUTEN)

An artisan weaving tsuzure fabric. The artisan's nails are filed into sharp points like saw teeth, which are used to weave patterns into the fabric one part at a time. This process is very intricate, and some complex patterns can only be made at a rate of about 0.15 square inches per day. (Photo courtesy of the Nishijin Textile Industry Association)

Left: Tatenishiki is an elegant type of nishiki that features patterns weaved in the warp (vertical threads).
Right: Donsu has a three-dimensional texture, and is made with five strands for each of the warp (vertical) and weft (horizontal) threads. (Photos courtesy of the Nishijin Textile Industry Association)

Bringing Nishijin-ori into People's Daily Lives

Glass plates with Nishijin-ori designs developed by a company that works with this style of fabric. This traditional pattern called "hana-shippo" is said to bring fortune as its circle shapes represent fulfillment. The gold threads shine clearly in these designs. (Photo courtesy of orisho-sakai)

Nishijin-ori has a spectacular appearance and is often used for weddings and other special days. One company that makes artisanal Nishijin-ori fabric for obi decided to develop glass plates in the same style. This company wanted to let people enjoy Nishijin-ori in their daily lives, such as with the three-dimensional look of the texture, the shine of the gold and silver threads, and the luster of the silk. On top of this, the company aims to help preserve the jobs of the artisans by spreading the appeal and increasing awareness of Nishijin-ori among people who no longer use obi. The idea for these plates came about through a process of trying to use obi fabric in other kinds of items. With a focus on sizes that are easy to use and patterns that bring good luck, these plates are a great choice as gifts for weddings, moving houses, and birthdays.

Many kinds of glass plates developed by a Nishijin-ori wholesaler in Kyoto. Each plate is shaped with care by artisans using glass and special resin. They are designed to be both beautiful and easy to use. (Photos courtesy of EMURA SHOUTEN)

With a shift towards western clothing, demand for traditional Japanese clothing is falling. However, one successor to a family trade for wholesale in Kyoto decided to develop glass plates with Nishijin-ori patterns, with the desire to use the designs of this fabric outside of obi and kimono. The artisans who received production orders worked by hand to curve the plates with carefully managed time and temperature conditions. They use highly refined techniques to make each plate with strong attention to detail. The company that produced these Nishijin-ori glass plates wants people to enjoy them during meals at special events, and as a form of interior decoration.

The Nishijin-ori glass plates are intended to help preserve the techniques of artisans who are growing older, as well as to bring the appeal of Nishijin-ori to the next generation in a familiar way as an iconic form of Japanese esthetics.

All Sorts of Projects Related to Nishijin-ori

There are many other projects with the aim to bring the traditional Japanese culture of Nishijin-ori to people's everyday lives. These include neckties that highlight the unique luster and sheen of Nishijin-ori, glamorous and beautiful stoles that have delicate appearances, other kinds of apparel, and even small objects that bring joy to daily life.
Recently, successors of businesses related to Nishijin-ori have created sneakers and other products using the robust weaving techniques for this fabric. These products have also gained attention among a wide range of people.

Neckties that have the unique luster and sheen of Nishijin-ori fabric. Original neckties featuring pleats made with unique technology are also gaining popularity. (Photos courtesy of Nekado, Co., Ltd.)

A Nishijin-ori stole dyed in a traditional Japanese blue color called "rurikon." (Photo courtesy of orisho-sakai)

Left: A smartphone pouch made using Nishijin-ori cloth and featuring an obi motif.
Right: The pouch is designed to easily fit larger-sized smartphones. (Photos courtesy of orisho-sakai)

Left and center: Drawstring pouches called kinchaku made with Nishijin-ori are popular as souvenirs. Right: Sneakers using the robust weaving techniques of Nishijin-ori. (Photos courtesy of Kyotogeibidou)

Nishijin-ori is a traditional and iconic Japanese craft. The techniques for this fabric are being preserved in many different forms, including classic obi as well as new products like glass plates. The possibilities for this craft continue to grow.
When you come to Japan, why not experience the beauty of Nishijin-ori first-hand and think about the intricate techniques that were used to make it?