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Communities feud over textile design

Date Posted: 1998-03-27

Yomitan Village and Haebaru Town are involved in a bitter battle over one of Okinawa's most traditional crafts. Textile design for Okinawan kimonos is a proud tradition in many areas of Okinawa and the Prefecture is searching for a new design to represent the island's kimonos. Unique designs stand for the various areas of Okinawa and different towns traditionally produce their own styles.

Ryukyu Kasuri, the name given to the patterns on the fabric, is easily recognizable to many people as the Okinawan design. Yomitan, Shuri and Yonaguni designs have all been nominated by the Okinawa Prefecture and will compete for the coveted honor of having their town's design officially represent Okinawa. A design from Haebaru Town was also up for nomination, but after fierce opposition from Yomitan Village, their nomination has been frozen.

Yomitan Village claims that Haebaru-nahaori, Haebaru Town's design, is unsatisfactory, and was copied from Yomitan's traditional design, and that there is little history behind the town's textile design and it has yet to be researched, therefor not meeting the required conditions to be nominated. According to Takashi Arakaki, Chairman of the Yomitan Village Craft Design Association, "if Haebaru-nahaori is nominated, then Yomitan Village will fall behind in the textile design industry and will no longer be important in Okinawa." Almost 200 artisans make up the worker's association and are fighting tooth and nail to keep Haebaru Town's design from being nominated.

Haebaru Town Textile Association Chairman, Kokichi Tobaru, countered the accusations, saying "Haebaru-nahaori has a history spanning 20 to 30 years and everyone knows it. There is proof of that, the historical background is there. Yomitan Village is lying." He went on to explain that his designers are getting older and "are unable to compete with Yomitan's people." Unless they are nominated soon, he is afraid that Haebaru-nahaori will become history instead of keeping the tradition alive by being the next Ryukyu Kasuri.

While the Okinawa Prefecture holds the nomination of Haebaru Town, an aggressive marketing campaign is being launched by the two communities to promote use of their respective designs.

"If Haebaru Town's style is nominated, they will have an unfair advantage when it comes to introducing the design to residents of Okinawa," Yomitan Village officials claim. "Yomitan Village is much smaller and more isolated than Haebaru Town, which is closer to Naha. The promotional system used to choose Ryukyu Kasuri is done by area, which would mean Haebaru Town would have the vantage point, " he said.

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