by Yumi Ryujin
Kawagoe Goodwill Ambassador for Tourism

§ No. 3

Kawagoe Tozan (Kawatou), the Kawagoe-made fabric that bloomed from the end of the Edo Period up to around 1900

Welcome to Kawagoe! Kawagoe is an old town whose history can be traced back to the Old Stone Age. I would like to tell you a story about the Kawagoe of olden times. This story is about Kawagoe Tozan (Kawatou), the Kawagoe-made fabric that bloomed from the end of the Edo Period up to around 1900. This is number three in the series of stories about Kawagoe.
What is "Tozan"?
The origin of Japanese "Tozan" is "Santome," which they say means "St. Thomas." This port shipped cotton fabric with a striped-pattern and is on the eastern coast of India. This cotton fabric was imported into Japan around the end of the Muromachi Period (1393-1575). The name "Tozan" was created to mean "cotton fabric imported from abroad." The striped-pattern fabric" called Tozan was presented to the Shogun almost every year.
The Opening of Japan to the World
and the Fabric Industry
As I told you in the previous chapter, the fabric expertise of the Kawagoe Domain was already at a high level during the Edo Period. However, the opening of Japan to the world in 1854 did a great deal of damage to the fabric industry throughout the whole country. Since the main export product at that time was raw silk, the price of raw silk skyrocketed and it became hard to obtain. This led to the towns that produced silk goods becoming deserted. The cotton producing towns also had a hard time, being pushed by imported cotton fabric, which was inexpensive and of good quality. Imported cotton was called "Ametou (American Tozan)."
The Kawagoe Merchant, NAKAJIMA Kyuhei
NAKAJIMA Kyuhei, who was born in 1825, had a fabric shop called "Masada-ya" in Shigi-machi (now Matsue-cho 2-chome and Naka-cho). He recognized that the source of the marvelousness of the Tozan produced in Europe and America was its thread, so he decided to import the thread. There were lots of people who looked into importing cotton fabric, but Nakajima was the only person who paid attention to the thread itself. He left Kawagoe for Yokohama to move into trading.
Kawagoe Tozan (Kawatou)
In September 1860, two rolls of cotton thread produced in Manchester, England, arrived at Yokohama Harbor. As soon as he confirmed their high quality, Nakajima placed an additional order. After receiving 25 rolls in April of the following year, he ordered his subcontractors to use them in their weaving. Because the Kawagoe region had gained sufficient techniques through Tozan weaving, Kawagoe Tozan achieved great popularity in a short period of time.
Kawagoe Tozan
Kawagoe Tozan
ICHIKAWA Danjuro and Kawatou
Nakajima racked his brains to make Kawatou famous throughout the world. It is well-known that Kabuki actors helped to make striped-pattern cloth fashionable. Nakajima asked ICHIKAWA Danjuro to wear Kawatou and deliver his lines, sighing "...finally, I will have to pawn my best clothes, Kawatou." It is said that people who loved Danjuro and watched this scene leaped at the latest fashion, Kawatou.
The striped-pattern cloth called 'Kawagoe Tozan'
The striped-pattern cloth called "Kawagoe Tozan"
by courtesy of Gofuku Kasama
YAGI Kensai discovered a special loom called "Takahata" in Nishijin, Kyoto, and improved it for Kawatou. Through his efforts Kawatou achieved its heyday. After the Great Fire of Kawagoe in 1893, however, the boom suddenly ceased.
A special loom known as a 'Takahata'
A special loom known as a "Takahata"
I wonder if some of the Kawatou produced during that high time might still be lying in old clay-walled warehouses, called "Kura," in Kawagoe.
Currently the Kawagoe Tozan Appreciation Party gives demonstrations of weaving Kawatou every Thursday, Saturday and Sunday (10:00-15:00) at Kawagoe City Museum. Why don't you experience some weaving? (Please call the museum beforehand for confirmation.)
Kimono shops in Kawagoe are offering "Kawagoe Tozan" products: Kimono, dress shirts, bags, purses, card cases, etc.
Kawagoe Tozan Small Products
Kawagoe Tozan small products
by courtesy of Gofuku Kasama
I have two hand-made Kawatou Kimono. They are chic and feel like silk.
Please visit Kawagoe again! We welcome you!
©Yumi Ryujin   All rights reserved.

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Illustration of Kawagoe