Did you know there is a silk-making tradition registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage just North of Tokyo?
I recently visited Oyama city (40 min from Tokyo) in Tochigi prefecture, and was surprised to learn about the Yuki-tsumugi silk-making tradition, which has more than 1,500 years of history.
For centuries, the Kimono was an everyday garment for the men and women in Japan.
It was made from different materials depending on the usage and who it was for. Farmers and firefighters wore Kimonos made from durable fabric, and the high-class wore elegant Kimonos made from fine silk.
There was also a difference between the quality of silk the Kimonos were made from. The most luxurious and sought-after Kimono fabric was the Yuki-tsumugi Silk Kimono fabric. This is the only silk fabric in Japan where hand‐spun yarn is used for both the weft and the warp!
After getting off the train at JR Oyama station (40 min from Tokyo), I exited the station building from the West side and entered the ‘Honba Yuki Tsumugi Craft Museum’, just outside the station.
Here, one of the museum staff greeted me with excellent English and showed me around the museum.
The museum staff kindly shows me how Yuki-Tsumugi silk is produced
She kindly explained the complicated steps of how Yuki-tsumugi silk fabric is produced, which was also depicted on the illustrations on the museum’s wall.
Yuki-tsumugi is unique as the entire process is carefully done by hand. And, unlike usual threads, the Yuki-tsumugi silk thread is created by carefully pulling together and moistening the silk floss, not by twisting it. This makes the thread lighter and softer.
As everything is carefully done by hand, the whole process can take a lot of time. For example, to produce enough silk fabric for one kimono could take up to a whole year!
Yuki-tsumugi is also unique as it uses a particular tie-dying method. The thread is dyed and then weaved on a traditional wooden loom. This method has been used since 1,500 years ago!
The way to spot a Yuki-tsumugi kimono, is to find its distinctive pattern that looks like small turtle shells. It’s very interesting because at first glance, it is hardly noticeable. But the closer you look, the better you can see how intricate the patterns are.
I’ve never worn a Kimono like this. The Yuki-tsumugi silk Kimono was noticeably lighter, softer, and warmer than any other Kimono I have worn before.
It was also surprisingly comfortable, and only costs 2,500 yen to rent, which is extremely affordable for a genuine high quality Kimono.
At Honba Yuki Tsumugi Craft Museum, you can also experience traditional weaving. But be careful not to pull too hard and break the strings as I did!
If you choose the Coaster weaving experience, it is 1,000 yen per session, but make sure to book at least a week in advance as there are limited slots available.
Friday to Sunday. Closed on Monday (no service between July-August)
Open from 10:30-16:00
COASTER MAKING – Traditional Weaving Experience
Every third Sunday (Three times a day)
Starts at 10:30, 13:00, 14:30
Finally, if you are looking for information about Oyama, make sure to drop by the Oyama Tourist Information Center inside the Honba Yuki Tsumugi Craft Museum. You can ask about seasonal recommendations as well as local souvenirs including Yuki-tsumugi silk items.
Yuki-tsumugi silk is more than just a garment. It’s culture, art, and history. Being able to to experience a unique tradition with a thousand-year history like this is priceless.
The museum is very convenient from Tokyo. JR Oyama Station is only a 40min bullet train (Shinkansen) ride from Tokyo, and the museum is just outside Oyama station.
Honba Yuki Tsumugi Craft Museum (おやま本場結城紬クラフト館)
Located just outside the West exit of JR Oyama Station.
Contributor: Venice Akamatsu
Venice’s lives locally and has a passion to make travel videos so she can provide reliable information to travelers visiting Japan. After starting her youtube channel, she’s been continuously sharing about travel, local events, and everyday life in Japan.
youtube: Venice Aka