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Roots of Kiryu's Textile Manufacturing

Adapten from the text, "Furusato Kiryu no Ayumi," published by the
Kiryu City Board of Education, 1998, p. 81.

illustration It is said that silk manufacturing began in Kiryu sometime during the early part of the Nara Period.

The Nihon Shoki, an early record of Japanese history, records the fact that silk was produced in the Kiryu area as early as 713 and that some of this silk was received by authorities in lieu of taxes.
Later, during the Northern and Southern Courts (1337-1392)/ Muromachi Period (1333-1568), Kozuke no Kuni (Yamada-gun) silk was known even as far as Kamakura. (Old name for the Kiryu Area.)

There were some 5 areas in and around Kiryu designated as special protectorates or "mikuriya" during the Japanese Middle Ages. These mikuriya produced silk to be used for Ise Shrine.

These areas included the Sonoda Mikuriya and Sunaga Mikuriya in the present day Kawauchi area, Hirosawa Mikuriya in the present day Hirosawa area, and the Ryomai Mikuriya and Okuraho in the present day Ota area.
Ise Shrine is the spiritual headquarters of Shintoism in Japan, and as such, only the finest products were submitted for use there. The Shrine employed large quantities of white silk and other white material for ceremonial use.

It goes without saying, then, that the silk produced in the Kiryu area mikuriya must have been of excellent quality. No doubt, Kansai area artisans were dispatched to teach their skills to the local weavers.
Some 200 years later, during the Period of Warring States, the name "Nittayama Tsumugi" (a white pongee, or thin silk fabric with a knotty weave produced in Kiryu) was ordered by the Shogunate from Hikobe Manor in Hirosawa.

Considering the political situation of the time, when the weak were overrun by the strong, defending one's own territory depended upon having a supply of wealth in the form of natural resources which could be excavated, or establishing a reputation for the production of something of value.

Each Daimyo, therefore, was anxious to promote production and struggled to bolster the local economy in order to protect their own holdings. Lord Kiryu and his successor, Lord Yura, being only minor nobles, were also continually under pressure to strengthen the economy of the Kiryu domain.

Silk manufacturing, no doubt, proved to be of great value, and thus received full support from the samurai administrators.
After the collapse of Hojo at the battle of Odawara Castle (1590), for the following 50 or so more years, the Daimyo struggled to protect their holdings against the constant threat of attack by those stronger.

Supporting ones allies under attack in the hope of thus being supported under similar conditions involved the use of considerable financial resources. Throughout the country, each domain during this period was actively involved in the development of local products and strove to establish a reputation for excellence.

Surviving Daimyo were not only those skilled in battle strategy, but also those who managed to successfully develop their own local economy.
No doubt, Kiryu's silk manufacturing, a recognized source of revenue, benefitted from the support of local Daimyos during this period of political upheaval.
Towards the end of the Period of Warring States, Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu ordered some 2,410 silk banners from Kiryu weavers (1600). These banners were carried by his soldiers in the decisive Battle of Sekigahara which led to Tokugawa's successful emergence as shogun, solidifying his control over the realm, and issuing in the Edo Period.
Over the centuries, the production of fine silk in the area was a tremendous boon to the local economy.

The fact that this silk was used in official quarters (both religious and military) led strength and stability to the region. It can be said, then, that the history of silk manufacturing in Kiryu cannot be understood outside of its ties with religious and political uses.
Interestingly enough, the Sonada and Sunaga names are still quite prevalent in the Kawauchi district of Kiryu. These families take pride in the more than 800 years of history which is their cultural heritage.

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