Aizu momen - colourful and durable cotton fabric from Fukushima Prefecture
Aizu momen is a durable, plain-weave cotton fabric from Fukushima Prefecture in Japan’s northeastern Tōhoku region.
Its history dates back to 1627 CE when the feudal lord of the Aizu region, Katō Yoshiaki, invited weavers from his former territory of Iyo Matsuyama (present-day Ehime Prefecture on the island of Shikoku) to learn the techniques of Aizu.
In 1643, the new lord, Hoshina Masayuki established and encouraged the cultivation of cotton in Aizu, which became the northernmost region in Japan where cotton could be grown.
Beautiful stripe patterns are the main characteristic of Aizu momen, with each area using its local vegetation to dye the textiles in different colours and varying widths of stripes. Eventually, these became known as jishima, and it was said that one could tell where people were from just by looking at the stripes. Patterns with red lines were worn by women, and the thickness of the stripes showed different age groups.
Another characteristic of the fabric is its absorbency. Prior to being woven, the warp is soaked in wheat starch. This creates fine nodes between the warp and the weft, which allows for a layer of air to be contained when woven. This, in turn, enables the fabric to retain heat during colder months and absorb perspiration during the summer - a quality that is particularly beneficial for people living in areas with hot summers and very cold winters, such as Aizu.
Aizu momen is also known for its durability, which is why it proved to be a popular fabric for worker’s clothes.
In the latter half of the Meiji period (1868-1912 CE), as Japan’s import of cotton increased and the textile industry developed, the production of Aizu momen shifted from farms to factories. Its heyday lasted until the Taishō period (1912-1926 CE). However, the widespread manufacture of Aizu momen gradually disappeared and today only three weaving workshops remain.
Despite this, Aizu momen products continue to be highly prized for their durability and quality.