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Living National Treasure’ – Toshiko Taira

Long-lived Okinawa Prefecture, the even longer-lived Okinawan village of Ogimi, and we senior citizens of Ogimi enjoy living out long lives in a traditional food culture that seeks nourishment in the blessings of nature.

Up until the start of the Second World War, bashofu (a cloth made from banana fiber) were woven all over Okinawa. Nowadays, the only place left that still produces them is the village of Kijoka.

The weaving of bashofu takes a great deal of labor and patience. From the cultivation of the yarn, to the stacking, dying and weaving of the bolts of fabric, the weaver cannot afford to lose concentration even for a moment. If any corners are cut at any point during the production, then the final stages will become a mess. As such, exceptional sensitivity is required.

Bashofu are made entirely from materials that grow naturally in Okinawa and absolutely no machines are used during production. It is something that my mother did, and my grandmother before her. It is a regional craft with cultural importance that has been passed down our ancestral lines for centuries. If we were to stop making them today, then bashofu would quickly disappear from Okinawa. For us, letting this happen would be inexcusable, so to this day we have worked hard to overcome the various hardships of production.

Although in recent years our work has finally come to be recognized worldwide, we are still unable to feel at ease. Even in Kijoka, the people who participate in the production of bashofu are an aging generation. In particular, the number of people able to perform the job known as ‘u-umi’ (which involves connecting threads of fiber together) is decreasing. Furthermore, the gathering of necessary materials has come to be immensely difficult.

The production of bashofu is a traditional craft which all of Okinawa, not only the village of Kijoka, can boast to the world. Be it just one person or many, our hope is that people will look at our culture and realize its splendor.

If more people were willing to not only watch over us, but also work together with us, then the tradition of bashofu production would surely continue for many generations to come. This is something we believe and hope for.

人間国宝 平良敏子

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