Trivia 037: Banana cloth

Last week I got some bananas from the grocery store with the intent of making some banana bread. Unfortunately, they were very unripe, so I have been waiting for them to get to that slightly over-ripe point where they are good for bread. It got me thinking about what else bananas are good for, which ultimately reminded me of some trivia about how banana plants are used in Japan.

Kijoka no bashofu (喜如嘉の芭蕉布) is a type of cloth woven in Okinawa out of the fibers of the Japanese banana plant. To make kijoka no bashofu, workers peel off the outer layers of the stalks of the banana plants. The actual fruit of the banana plant is not used in this process. These stalks are boiled to soften them, then scraped to collect the fibers. The fibers are then formed into threads. After a bit more processing, these threads can then be woven together into a cloth. The resulting textile is light and airy, perfect for the summertime. It is described as being like “wings of a dragonfly”. You can watch a video of it being made here.

The art of kijoka no bashofu used to be common across the Ryukyu islands of southern Japan, but is now only found in the Kijoka village of Okinawa. Okinawa is an island in the southern part of the Japanese archipelago. Because it is quite distant from the main islands of Japan, it was actually mostly self-governing until after the Meiji Restoration in 1868. As a result, Okinawa has a unique culture, including its own language family. (Okinawa is also where the martial art of karate developed). In 1974, the Japanese government declared kijoka no bashofu to be an Intangible Cultural Property. Cultural Properties are things the Japanese government defines to be important characteristics of their history and culture, serving as the heritage of the Japanese people. These can be both tangible or intangible, and include buildings, works of art, monuments, landscapes, and techniques. In this case, the art and techniques of creating kijoka no bashofu are recognized to be important to Japan’s culture. Therefore, the government works to help educate future generations about them, and encourages and financially supports efforts to ensure such techniques get passed down.

I have only been to Japan one time, and it was just for a week. Hopefully, next time I go back, I’ll have a chance to visit Okinawa and see some of this banana cloth for myself.

If you know anyone who would like to receive these, please have them send an email to [email protected]. And if you’re disappointed that the cloth is not actually made from bananas, let me know and I can take you off the list.

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