Necessaries of life

Clothing, Food, Plant, and Shelter

Necessaries of life

Cloth born from plants get “better” with “wear.”
This message from the past was such an inspiration for us.

The essentials of our lives as humans.
As we learned about “clothing” born from plants, we realized that there is no such thing as order of priority when it comes to “clothing, food, and shelter.”
Not one can be missing and all are equally important.

They were plants before becoming a dish or before becoming a bouquet.
Everyone knows that. But like our ancestors before us, we want to learn how we can use every single part of a plant.
We want to continue asking ourselves how we can take something that is about to be discarded and see it not as having served its purpose but see them through a fresh set of eyes and think how we can give it another new life.
The word “mottainai” should always be used as a gesture of thanks.

A new word that could replace this emotion could be, “SDGs”.
We consider it our personal SDGs rather than a goal set by the larger society.

We live today, surrounded by the infinite wisdom that our ancestors garnered so that they can bring more goodness to their lives.
We thank this mindboggling chain of time.
And so we hope to preserve that unbroken chain and do our part in creating a livelihood brimming with gratitude and a life that gets better with time.

Necessaries of life

The teachings of “majotae”

We wanted to create something that showcases the characteristics of hemp cloth in its entirety while also being usable for daily work around the house. The first item that the “Life is beautiful” project by Yuri Nomura and Yukari Iki created with “majotae” cloth was the Kappougi (coverall apron.) As both women wear aprons on a daily basis at work, a Kappougi keeps sleeves protected, the coverall wraps around the entire shoulder which means less weight on the neck, and it also keeps loose hairs and lint on one’s clothes under the covers. “majotae” is a soft cloth but it becomes even softer with use and hugs the wearer with a sense of security.

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Hemp outshines cotton when it comes to functionality but its production was halted for years in Japan due to the suspension of domestic hemp cultivation after World War II, coupled with the delay in industrialization due to the difficulty of spinning hemp into thread. “majotae” succeeded in re-creating the softness and texture of ancient hemp cloth through state-of-the-art spinning technology. From plain woven fabric to twill fabric and knits, a variety of hemp cloths are being made.

Necessaries of life

Is it possible to know hemp cloth inside and out and create one as (mass produced) daily wear instead of handcrafted artisan cloth? This question led to extensive research of modern spinning techniques and the creation of “majotae”, a cloth that offers a look and texture that is similar to artisan work.

However, this is apparently only the beginning.
The completion of the product is not the end. Instead, ancient techniques are recreated first-hand and manufacturing methods are researched meticulously to seek out hints on how they can be brought to life in a modern context. All this in order to move the needle of evolution toward an industrial product that does good for the future of our planet.

Handwork and mass production, there is no right or wrong and the key is in uncovering a way that blends the benefits of the two in a way that is suited for the future. This mindset of “majotae” is what the future of product making needs.

Necessaries of life

Taima-fu gets better with use

Fast grower

Hemp thrives even in poor soil, arid regions, and without neither chemicals nor fertilizers. It is also a fast grower that reaches 3-4 meters in 100-120 days. It’s robust root system also helps soften the soil.

Super durable

Of the different plant derived threads, hemp is outstandingly durable. It becomes even stronger when exposed to water. When working in the bush, the new and coarse hemp cloth serves as protection while worn hemp cloth was suited for daily wear and worn for many many years.

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Cool in summer, warm in winter

We thought “hemp=summer cloth.” Which is not exactly wrong. However, hemp is also a fiber that retains moisture and insulates heat during winter. In the past, it was daily wear worn year-round.

Stiff and coarse becomes soft and smooth

The image of hemp cloth as being coarse and stiff goes back as far as we can remember when in actuality, it gets smoother, softer, and “better” the more it’s worn.

Taima-fu is…
Sacred yet ordinary.
Spiritual yet practical.

Of all the plant-derived cloths of the past, hemp cloth was the most extraordinary discovery of all. The more we learned about it, the more we realized how far it was from our preconceived ideas of “hemp.” Taima-fu is a cloth that is endlessly practical yet spiritual as in a plant that God dwells in.

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人倫訓蒙図彙 南都布さらし乃記 日本山海名物図会
Right“Nihon Sankai Meibutsu Zue (Illustrated Famous Products of the Mountains and Seas of Japan)” Nara Sarashi (high-quality hemp fabric) late-Edo Period (1754)
Middle“Nanto Nuno Sarashi no Ki (Nanto Encyclopedia of Fabrics)” High quality hemp fabric made in Nara, late-Edo Period (1789)
Left“Jinrin Kinmo Zui (An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Humanity)” Sobuku early-Edo Period (1690)
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  1. Sow seeds in spring
  2. 3-4 months later, when the plant has grown taller than a person, about 2-3 meters in height, harvest by pulling out of the ground root and all
  3. Cut off the roots and leaves and bundle
  4. Boil the stem to make it easier to peel the bark
  5. Hang to dry. The process to this point is already labor intensive
  6. After the summer Bon season, splash water onto the dried fiber, cover with grass, and let ferment
  7. Peel the now-soft bark and remove the fibers
  8. Pick the fibers into fine pieces and spin into thread (twist with fingers.) The task is done during spare time in between farm work, which means that it takes 3-4 months to finish 1 roll (10 meters.)
  9. Use spun thread to weave into cloth
  10. Soak woven cloth in lye water
  11. Hammer cloth with Kinuta and hang in sun. Repeat Tasks 10 & 11 dozens of times.

Folktale of Japanese Cloth Made from Plants

Necessaries of life

Ancient Living and Plant Derived Cloth

For over 30 years, Shinichiro Yoshida accumulated a collection of old cloths made from plants. Please look at them closely and feel their story.
When we give the extra effort to learn about the long process of a familiar plant, not just at its harvest, but from its beginning as a seed until it turns into thread and cloth, we start seeing an image of what the future could be.

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For approximately 10,000 years, for an unimaginably long period of time, before the early Jomon Period. Japanese people invested incredible effort and time in spinning thread and making clothes from the trees and plants growing around them. Cotton was not mass produced until only recently around the Edo Period.

Till then, people handmade many of their daily necessities from different plants and bartered, which meant there was little need for cash. All of the plant derived cloths lined up here were created in different regions across Japan. Each cloth has a different characteristic that highlights the difference in the climate of each region. What is especially intriguing is that people used their wisdom to make use of every part of a single plant, using some parts for “clothing” and others as “food.”

This is a great reminder of the “mottainai” spirit.

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This must be the Place.


“Kaya (mosquito nets)” were used for securing warmth during the cold seasons in the Tohoku region.

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Shrine amulets distributed by
Grand Shrine of Ise and other shrines

The “Jingu Taima” talisman is distributed to this day through the Grand Shrine of Ise and other shrines throughout Japan. Also read “oonusa”, these are ritual items used for warding off bad spirits. “Taima” or hemp, was regarded a sacred plant with the power to drive away and cleanse the impure.

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“Root” Video 03’59”
Camera/Editing: Avex Entertainment Inc.

* ”majotae”

Fabric brand led by Shinichiro Yoshida, Artist and Director of the Early Modern Asafu (Hemp Cloth) Laboratory, created to take Taima-fu, a once special cloth in Japan, and revive in in a modern context through current spinning/manufacturing techniques.

The reason why “clothing” comes before “food” in “ishokuju.”
When people made cloth by hand from plants, they probably considered it an act of “wearing plants” directly on their skin.
The very beginning of “ishokuju” started from “clothing” (plants) that protected people from outside enemies.

Right around the same time, we discovered Taima-fu.
In Japan, plant fiber known as hemp has been a part of people’s lives since more than 10,000 years ago.

As clothing, as medicine, as food, and as a sacred tool in religious rituals.
Who would have guessed that back then, hemp (cannabis) was not for smoking but a plant for protecting lives.

Food and Plants

We were handed an old piece of cloth from Shinichiro Yoshida.
He told us that it was a precious cloth that would usually be stored securely in a glass case in a museum. It was daily wear made by ancient people using thread handspun from plants and woven into cloth.

He told us that it’s called “Taima-fu (hemp cloth.)” As we listened to stories of the times when this cloth was born with the feel of the cloth right in our hands, images of ancient sceneries started taking shape in our minds.

In Japan, people refer to the essentials of life as “ishokuju (clothing, food, shelter)” but when translated into English, the order is changed to “food, clothing, and shelter.” …which puzzled us.
Shouldn’t “food” be at the top of the list for man’s survival?
Then why, in Japanese, is “clothing” put before “food”?

“Taima-fu” taught us why.
Exploring the ways of life when plant-derived cloth was a part of daily life helped us uncover scores of hints for the future that had gone unnoticed until now.

Yuri Nomura ⁄ Yukari Iki


The ”Clothing, Food & Plants” exhibition was held in November 2021. The idea of this exhibition was spurred by the discovery of “majotae”, a cloth made from a modern spinning and weaving technique newly created by Shinichiro Yoshida, artist and director of the Early Modern Asafu (Hemp Cloth) Laboratory, in his mission to revive hemp cloths that were once regarded as precious in Japan. This encounter with “majotae” takes our focus to the “clothing” and “food/plants (both pronounced “shoku” in Japanese) of “clothing, food, shelter.” “Plants have allowed for the survival of the human race by serving as clothing at times and food at others.” This exhibition takes this idea of the two women and reflects on the ancient ways of life revolving around plants while also looking forward, unleashing our imaginations, on how we can conceive of new ways of “clothing, food, and shelter.”

clothing clothing