Interview with Mayu Ueno – Textile Artisan in Fukuoka

By Mike Sullivan (translation by Saneyuki Owada and Mike Sullivan)

Please note that an obi is the sash which is wrapped around the waist when wearing a kimono. Hakata Ori is a weaving technique with a history spanning over 700 years in Japan.

Mayu Ueno

Please introduce yourself and your background.

I make Hakata Ori (Hakata folk woven textile) and I am based in Hakata city, Fukuoka prefecture, as a master artisan of hand woven Hakata Ori in conjunction with Hakata Ori development college.

Mainly I make Obi, but sometimes I make other small items using Hakata Ori textiles, and also I sometimes participate in traditional art craft exhibitions and galleries in Hakata where I present my hand crafted Hakata Ori.

When I was at University I studied educational psychology, however because ever since I was a child I have admired Japanese  traditional crafts, after I graduated I made the leap into the world of Hakata Ori.

In the world of traditional Japanese crafts its said that most craftspeople need more than 10 years to become a master of their craft,  I am still learning about Hakata Ori however I want to be a bearer of the culture of Hakata Ori and to be a lifelong campaigner for this textile.

Please tell us about your work.

For the process of making obi, I first determine the design of the pattern, then I draw a plan and I choose which silken threads can be used before then starting the weave.

We use extra fine silken threads with more than 7,000 to 8,000 threads to weave, as such it is quite an elaborate work to make. Moreover, originally Hakata Ori was made by men because it is necessary to have physical power in order to weave, thus the making of Hakata Ori needs stamina and concentration power.

Nowadays, Hakata Ori is mainly made by machine. so hand woven Hakata Ori has become really rare.



Where do your ideas for textiles come from?

I sometimes pick up an idea from beautiful plants and nature, but also I feel strong attraction to architecture and objects that made by people.

It has to be a well calculated design, and a design that captures an emotional moment… I am also inspired by historical and spiritual things.

Where do you find the inspiration for your textile designs?

Basically a obi has a standard size so I design it like a painting on a canvas. However an obi is not the same as a canvas as when you tie an obi around you as a sash it has three dimensions. So I need to be careful when I am designing to not only think about the beauty of the obi itself but also I need to imagine how it looks when it is being worn. So when I am thinking of of the figure that will wear the kimono and how the waist must be bound, it is also a matter of a little give and take with the design.




How long does it take to design and make a particular work?

Normally it doesn’t take very long time to design a piece of work. I always imagine the design and then hold this in my head. However, for the production length I have to prepare the threads for the design pattern and for the weaving, this can take at least a month.

Is this the same for when you make an obi?

For obi it will take about a month to make a simple pattern however if the design is complicated it will take more.


To what extent do you draw upon your Japanese heritage for your work?

As the Kimono is unique to Japan, I believe that to continue making obi will help hand down Japanese traditions to future generations.

A main feature of a hand woven Hakata Ori is that it will never lose its shape even when you tighten it up when wearing it.

We need to develop Hakata Ori, not only for wearing with a kimono but also to adapt it to present day lifestyles, however I am also looking for ways to show the beauty of Hakata Ori by incorporating it within my art work.

It is commonplace to say that when you see a historical Japanese building that it becomes possible to catch a glimpse of the thoughts and lives of the people who existed at that time.

So, learning Japanese wisdom and the depth of the mind of Japanese beauty are not only just helping my creativity, but also this gives me an additional perspective of my way of living.


What do traditional Japanese crafts mean to you?

It is big challenge for me regarding how we can hand down Japanese traditional crafts to future generations.

I can only do little things, but I will keep looking for the path that only I can take and it will be great if my actions will be implanted in Hakata Ori history. Hakata Ori is really a part of my life.

Do you have any exhibitions or events coming up?

◆The 60th Japan Traditional Art Crafts Exhibition 第60回日本伝統工芸展

(You can also see my work at the following exhibition place)

2014. Feb. 26(Wed)~March. 16(Sun) Hiroshima Art Museum 広島県立美術館

◆In March and May I will have a display and sale at Takashimaya department stores in Osaka, Yokohama, Kyoto and Nihonbashi branches.

For more information you can see my website here.

Finally, any last words for anyone interested in Japanese crafts?

I think Japanese people are sometimes reminded of the quality of Japanese crafts when non-Japanese people discover them for the first time. So I want as many people as possible to know and learn about Hakata ori.



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