Dr. Drew's Infrequent Blog

21 March 2008

Bashofu, Japan’s Mingei Movement, and the Creation of a New Okinawa

Bashofu, Japan’s Mingei Movement, and the Creation of a New Okinawa During the Occupation Years (1945-1972) By Dr. Amanda Mayer Stinchecum

Date: Monday, March 31, 2008
Time: 3:00-4:30 PM
Place: Tokioka Room (Moore 319)
From the time of his first visit to Okinawa in 1938, Yanagi Sōetsu, founder of Japan’s Folk Craft (Mingei) Movement, promoted an image of bashōfu (cloth made from the fiber-banana) as emblematic of an essentialized, idyllic and homogeneous Okinawan culture. Yanagi’s view of Okinawa as a “tropical country,” a southern island paradise, became the theme of the islands’ budding tourism industry after Japan’s surrender in 1945. Since the sixteenth century, bashōfu has clothed the people of the Ryukyu islands, from Ryukyu’s kings to its poorest villagers. The cloth is still worn for local celebrations in which Okinawans assert their own identity as “simple island people.” Bashōfu has become an emblem of that identity. Kijoka bashōfu, today purchased primarily by Mainland Japanese collectors, was designated by the Japanese government as an “Important Intangible Cultural Property” in 1974, through the intervention of Yanagi Sōetsu and his colleagues. The Mingei view of Okinawa has shaped an image of the islands that came to be held by both Okinawans and Mainland Japanese.

Dr. Stinchecum is an independent scholar specializing in the history of Ryukyu/Okinawa through the medium of textile production, use, and meaning. She is currently engaged in a study of a simple cotton sash made only in the Yaeyama islands of southern Okinawa. The history of minsaa reflects social, political, economic, and cultural changes in Yaeyama over the past one hundred forty years.

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