An important part of the Ryukyu Islands’ cultural heritage is bashofu — cloth woven from banana fibers. This lightweight yet durable fabric is ideally suited to the tropical weather of the island chain, and its survival into the modern era is traced back to one woman, Toshiko Taira. Toshiko learned to weave at a young age and moved to Okayama on the mainland, where she worked with some influential artists at a mill. Inspired by their mission to preserve their local weaving traditions, she returned to Okinawa to do the same. Heartbreakingly, she found many of the banana plantations had been cut. Determined, she replanted and began working to revive and improve the craft, bringing other farmers and weavers into the movement.
Today, bashofu is in high demand for the artistry and beauty of the fabric. In Kijoka, you can watch craftspeople weaving bashofu — boiling the fibers, dyeing, spinning, and weaving. Intricate designs are woven into the cloth using handlooms and then crafted into kimonos, bags, and other items. This workshop is a fascinating place to watch Okinawa’s luxury textile artisans at work and pick up an artisanal souvenir at the same time.