Washi fabric is attracting worldwide attention due to its excellent breathability, durability and durability.
Furukawa Yosuke Shoten, a company with deep roots in the textile industry in Otsu City, a town 30 kilometers from Kyoto, sells bespoke jackets woven from twisted Japanese washi yarns. With these jackets, the company introduces a new fashion concept using environmentally friendly washi..
Cool in summer, warm in winter
Washi fibers, traditionally composed of fibers from the inner bark of gampi, a shrub and mulberry trees, has been an essential material for Japanese life since ancient times.
Furukawa Yosuke Shoten’s washi jackets are soft to the touch. Colors are also eye-catching, light yellow, dark green, or a stunning shade of blue, with around 120 shades on offer in all.
“The fabric is soft, water resistant and it’s even washable,” said 61-year-old company president and founder’s granddaughter Akemi Kawamura, describing the characteristics of washi jackets.
Japanese paper is finely cut and twisted into threads before being woven into fabrics with special machines. “It’s light and airy, so warm in the winter, but breathable and comfortable in the summer,” she said.
Washi is commonly used for fusuma and shoji (sliding paper doors) in Japanese homes. Due to its excellent breathability and moisture control, it serves as a natural air conditioner that stays cool in hot humid summers but warm in dry winters.
These features have also been incorporated into washi jackets, and now the company is also exploring the idea of making washi T-shirts and shoes. “We want to expand the use of washi threads,” Kawamura said enthusiastically.
A tradition in special yarns
The company’s factory is located in a village with a river flowing between hills, near the Kiryu district of Otsu city and the Kusatsu-Tagami interchange on the Shin-Meijin highway (about 30 kilometers from Kyoto).
Since the Edo period, the area has been known for the production of fine washi paper, which was the source of gold and silver threads used in Nishijin-ori, a traditional textile produced in the Nishijin district of Kyoto.
Originally, Furukawa Yosuke Shoten was founded in 1935 as a manufacturer of gold and silver wire. Gold leaf (kinpaku) was pressed onto the washi paper then cut for use in the finest gold thread.
The company later turned to manufacturing washi cloth products due to competition from cheaper foreign factories, which cut jobs.
But business was difficult. As Kawamura said, “We had to appeal by creating something from the threads of our own business. Taking advantage of her experience weaving and working in the garment industry in her twenties, she began selling finished products, such as blouses and towels.
One day in 2011, Kawamura made an unexpected breakthrough by wearing a washi cloth blouse during a meeting with local business owners. One of the participants who saw it asked, “Is this washi? So make me a jacket!
The first washi jacket, made after trial and error for a men’s clothing store, caught the eye with its unusual material and stylish colourway.
“I was impressed with the technology of using traditional washi as a fabric,” said Yukiko Kada, member of the House of Councilors. The governor of Shiga Prefecture, Taizo Mikazuki, also became a fan, and Furukawa’s main yarn-making business improved.
The fact that washi is a natural and renewable resource becomes the new selling point of the company.
The raw material is Manila hemp produced abroad. A fast growing perennial plant that can be grown year round, it is considered sustainable because it can be recycled and returned to the soil. So it’s no surprise that washi cloth was popular when exhibited at fairs abroad.
“I was even asked to open a store in New York,” Kawamura said.
In addition, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which advocate sustainable agriculture, are also proving to be a tailwind for the company.
“The trend is to promote the use of natural and raw materials. It’s a great opportunity for us, ”she said. But, for the moment, Japan still imports the raw materials.
“If we could make them from local mountain trees, it would also help maintain the mountains in the area,” Kawamura added.
Will we soon see washi jackets made from local products available in Kiryu? Only time will tell.
Author: Takanori Hanawa