Meibutsu-gire – the famous named fabrics

We have most often seen the meibutsu-gire, or famous named fabrics as kobukusa, the small patterned cloth, mounting for scrolls, and as shifuku or bags made to contain utensils.  During the haiken or appreciation dialog, the guests ask about the shifuku fabric.

While there is a close relationship between Tea and meibutsu-gire, not all fabrics used in Tea are meibutsu-gire. They are generally fabrics that were made in China during the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties or fabrics made in South Asia during the 16th and 17th centuries. They became famous either by their association with meibutsu tea utensils or because they were favored by famous chajin.

The meibutsu-gire fabrics originated mostly from China as far back as the Southern Song dynasty (11-27-1279), but some also come from Persia, Southeast Asia, and some from Japan.  The meibutsu-gire are characterized by the weaving technique, and the pattern.  Sometimes the name comes from a person or family that owned or favored that particular fabric.

There are many categories of meibutsu-gire, and we have already seen examples of Nishiki weaving.
There are about 400 fabrics that are considered as meibutsu-gire. However, the main ones we see today are Kinran, Donsu and Kanto.  There are probably more than I can name, so if you are into these kind of fabrics, let me hear from you in the comments.

Actually, few Nishiki fabrics are classified as meibutsu-gire. Here are photos of  a few more meibutsu-gire Nishiki fabrics, so you can learn to recognize them:

Kiji Arareji Hanamon Nishiki

Kiji Arareji Hanamon Nishiki close up



Meibutsu Shokko Nishiki


Kariyasu Botan Nishiki

Nashiji Kikukarakusa Nishiki


Ichigo Nishiki

 I admit, at first I did not see the strawberry in this pattern, but if you cut a strawberry in half across, when you look at the inside of the top and bottom half, you may see this type of pattern.
*Fabric photos courtesy of  Kitamura Tokusai Fukusaten Co., Ltd., Kyoto, Japan.via the now closed website Tea Hyakka..

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Reviving the art of Nishiki

Nishiki is Japanese brocade fabric.  According to my sources and notes:  The patterns for this brocade are woven from various colored weft floats traveling over a limited distance.  In the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), in China, they produced a warp-faced nishiki where colored warps skipping over a number of adjacent wefts formed a pattern. During the Tang dynasty (618- 907) weft faced nishiki was introduced from Western Asia, and is what is woven in Japan.  The nishiki of meibutsu gire (famous fabrics), many are used in tea, are mainly from the Ming dynasty (1368-1622) and later, and they all have a thick woven texture, as opposed to the soft, satiny feel of donsu fabric. Below are some examples of meibutsu gire nishiki:

 Bishamon Nishiki

Arisugawa Nishiki

Kamon Nishiki

The intricate weaving and technology used to manufacture this luxurious cloth is being revived in Kyoto by one of Japan’s most important contemporary interpreters of Nishiki, textile designer, Koho Tatsumura. In addition to applying this high level of traditional technology to his own original design work, he is actively involved in carrying forward the work of his late grandfather, Koha Tatsumura, founder of the Tatsumura Company, renowned kimono weavers since the late 1800s.

There is more information and fabulous photos of his contemporary work: Koho Tatsumura: Nishiki Weaving for the 21st Century



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Appropriate Dress

I have some new students and they were asking last week what is appropriate to wear to okeiko? What is appropriate to wear to a chakai?

The short response is kimono is always appropriate to wear in the tea room.  I almost always wear kimono, whether I am teaching, or receiving a bowl of tea in the tea room.  If you have kimono and know how to dress, please wear kimono.

What if you do not have kimono?  For women, a blouse and skirt or dresses are appropriate (not too short either, you will be sitting on the tatami). Slacks if you don’t or won’t wear a skirt. Long sleeves, please.  For men, loose fitting slacks and button down shirt are appropriate for okeiko. No shorts, jeans, short sleeves, tank tops or sleeveless shirts.

Consider chakai, semi formal events.  Kimono is always appropriate.  Men in sportcoats and tie, women in long dress, skirt and blouse or jacket.  Business attire is also appropriate. This is not the place to wear fleece jackets, jeans or even khakis. Definitely not track suits, sweat pants or even stretch pants or tights.   Women please tie your hair up so it doesn’t fall in your face or on the back of your neck. Take off your hats when you come inside.

The thing is, tea is not an informal event. Our lifestyles have become so casual nowadays, it is hard to know what is appropriate.  Even the women’s lacrosse team wore flip-flops to a Whitehouse reception.  If you are wearing something that you normally wear around the house, or to run to the store, take it up a notch for okeiko and two notches for chakai. It is good training to recognize what is appropriate to the occasion and dress accordingly.

If you are dressing in kimono, that is another post.

Questions, comments?  I’ll answer them in the comments.

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The Paradox that is The Way of Tea

“In my own hands I hold a bowl of tea; I see all of nature represented in its green color. Closing my eyes I find green mountains and pure water within my own heart. Silently, sitting alone, drinking tea, I feel these become part of me. Sharing this bowl of tea with others, they, too, become one with it and nature. That we can find a lasting tranquility in our own selves in the company of others is the paradox that is the Way of Tea.”

— Dr. Soshitsu Sen XV

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Beginning Chanoyu

I have a new class that I will be offering this spring

Beginning Chanoyu

In this 10 week class, students will learn  the first procedure, Ryakubon.  It is a complete tea ceremony with all the essential elements, but you can do it without a lot of equipment or tea room.  I have shared tea this way for public presentations, and also while hiking, in the living room, on the train, in my hotel room while traveling and under the cherry blossoms.  Students will also deepen their understanding of the guest role, learn to make a couple of different types of sweets, and learn basic preparation and set up of the tea room.  We will begin to explore seasonal aspects of the tea ceremony, and at the end, put on a tea gathering for friends and family.  Come join us for this class.

When:  Starts Saturday, April 28th, 3:00-5:00 pm and goes for 10 weeks,  Fee is $250
Where: Issoan Tea Room, 17761 NW Marylhurst Ct., Portland, OR 97229
Very limited enrollment.  Please call Margie 503-645-7058 to register.  margie AT

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