Rice Farming and Life in Kameda
Formerly a low-lying wetland, Kameda is situated between two of Japan’s largest rivers—the Shinano and the Agano—and the smaller Koagano River, which connects the two. People once referred to the region’s marshlands as a “lake omitted from the maps.”
Maps omitted the so-called “lake” because—to the people of Kameda—the marsh was actually farmland. In an attempt to make their field beds even slightly shallower, the farmers would painstakingly gather and transport boatloads of mud from waterways using special hoes known as “joren.”
During the planting season, farmers would wade up to their waists and chests in the still cool, muddy waters, practically swimming to plant their rice. Come harvest season, they would trudge waist deep in the now cold waters and use a small boat to carry the bundles of harvested rice.
On many occasions, the painstakingly raised rice would rot on the stem due to repeated flooding or backflows of salt water from the ocean. The despair of the farmers at such times exceeds imagination.
By the same measure, the joy of the harvest must also have been that much greater. In his book of travel essays Kaido wo Yuku ~ Kata no Michi (“Traveling the Highway: Road through the Marshes”), the author Ryotaro Shiba said of rice farming, “It seems to me that in some parts of Japan, agricultural work was a never-ending struggle to the death.
”Born from the blessings of the earth, Kamedajima (“Kameda stripes”) supported the region’s demanding farm work as agricultural wear, enveloping the joys and sorrows of the farmers who, like us, lived each day to the fullest.
Japan’s No. 1 Rice Belt
In 1948, the Kurinoki Drainage Pumping Station—Asia’s largest pumping station at the time—was completed in Niigata. Once the station began operation, Kameda’s drowned paddies were transformed into dry fields, and farms throughout the region flourished.
Today, fed by the rich waters of the Shinano and Agano Rivers, Kameda is a broad strip of beautiful rice fields located near the heart of Niigata City, one of Japan’s premier rice-growing regions.
Kamedajima and the Town of Kameda
The production of the cotton textiles that would later evolve into Kamedajima fabric is thought to have begun in 1696, during the Edo period.
The Kameda area was the northern limit of Japanese cotton, and farmers in local villages began to use the winter months to make cotton fabrics for their own clothing.
The town of Kameda was born on reclaimed land in the Nakayachi-shinden area, which had been chosen as the site for a rokusai market (a market held six times a month).
The area had deep waters ill-suited to rice growing but was an important node connecting Niigata’s port with inland regions. The production of cotton textiles would begin here two years later.
In the late 1920s, the demand for durable, stain resistant clothes dropped dramatically in agrarian towns, and in 1938 cotton thread became scarce as a result of wartime resource mobilization. The history of kamedajima came to a close.
The cotton textiles carried to Kameda and sold during the Kansei era (1789 to 1801) are said to be the origin of kamedajima fabric. Later, the farmers making kamedajima took their products to wholesalers, who in turn sold them to brokers or at the rokusai market, and this affiliation between farmers and wholesalers resulted in the development of a cottage industry.
The Golden Age of Kamedajima
The golden age of Kamedajima lasted from the late Meiji period through the Taisho period (1905 – 1926). During this time, the cottage industry shifted toward manual labor factories, and Kameda became a manufacturing region home to over 600 textile manufacturers (including home producers) for a total of 660 producers engaged in weaving, dye work, and other related processes. Organizations for quality improvement and standardization were established, products were sold in Hokkaido and Tohoku, and kamedajima evolved into an industry that supported the modernization of the town of Kameda.
Commitment to Revival
In 2002, when almost all memory of Kameda as a town of textiles had faded, a kamedajima swatch book was discovered in the collections of the Kameda History Museum, and the last two textile manufacturers remaining in the region began working to revive kamedajima.
The goal of the revival was not merely to recreate kamedajima’s simplicity, warmth, and durability, but also to pursue the flexibility required of a long-wearing fabric suited to modern life.
Recreating the Texture
To recreate kamedajima’s traditional texture the characteristics of the yarn, the weaving and dyeing techniques, and the finishing process all had to be thoroughly researched.
The research began with a thread-by-thread analysis of the yarn composing the fabric, followed by an inquiry into the best material for recreating the strength and texture.
The weaving methods, weave density, and dyeing techniques for recreating the characteristics of traditional stripes were also carefully examined.
This nearly obsessive amount of research and testing finally led to the 2005 revival of kamedajima—a fabric marked by traditional simplicity and warmth, as well as the durability and flexibility necessary to stand the test of use and time.
Registration as a Special Product of Kameda, Konan Ward, Niigata City
Regional Collective Trademark No. 5661445
Kamedajima—a traditional fabric born in the Kameda area. Out of a desire to spread awareness and encourage people to incorporate the fabric into their daily lives, kamedajima’s producers spent the first four years after the revival actively participated in domestic and international trade fairs.
Thanks to their tireless efforts, the fabric garnered attention for its high quality, traditional texture, and variety of beautiful stripes, and in 2009 the fabric passed a rigorous review and was registered as a regional collective trademark, becoming an official special product of Kameda, Konan Ward, Niigata City.
Regional collective trademarks consist of a region name paired with a product, and signify that the product has passed a rigorous review verifying its general association with and close ties to a specific region.