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Newsletter: Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition

Delivered on May 24, 2016
Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 67] May 24, 2016

Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 67]
May 24, 2016
Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion & Development Organization


1. Seasonal Creature:
Gift from gods: "Silkworm"

:: 1. Seasonal Creature

Here is a Japanese traditional poem, Tanka, compiled in the 14th
chapter of "The tale of Ise".

"Nakanakani Koini shinazuwa Kuwagonizo Narubekarikeru Tamanoo bakari"

Interpretation: if I live knowing that my love is hopeless until I die,
I should have been born as a silkworm even though its life is
extremely short.

The 72-climate is an East Asian solar calendar originating from the
Meiji period (19-20c). A year is divided into 72 periods and each of
them has a set meaning as to what happens in nature. During the period
of "Shoman Shoko (May 21st-25th )", it is said "蚕起食桑 (Kaiko Okotte
Kuwa wo Kurau: silkworms get busy eating mulberries)". As mulberry's
leaves grow well at this season, silk farmers start growing newly
hatched silk larvae called "毛蚕 (Kego)".

It is believed that sericulture started 5000 years ago in China. In
"Gishi Wajinden: one article in the Chinese history book, the Records
of the Three Kingdoms, written in 3c, referring to ancient Japan", it
says as follows; women rear silkworms, spin a yarn and weave cloth.
We can see that raw silk was produced and used already in the Yayoi
period (B.C. 3c-3c) in Japan from this description. In "Kojiki" which
is the oldest chronicle and "Nihon Shoki" which is the second oldest
history book, there are the same stories in the both books written in
the 8th century. It goes that silkworms hatched along with 5 grains
from the body of goddess. It seems that sericulture was valued as high
as food production in ancient Japan.

Because it brings high income to farmers, silkworm was regarded as
sacred and named with a respectful honorific, "Okaiko sama". A
silkworm god named "Oshira sama" is still being worshipped in the
Tohoku region (Northern Japan) and the northern part of Kanto region
(Eastern Japan) today.

A worshipping object of "Oshira sama" is made with a stick about 30cm
long. A sculptured or drawn face of a man, woman or horse is attached
to the top of the stick and is wrapped with many cloths like kimono
layers. It originated from the story of "馬娘婚姻譚 (Umamusume konin
tan: the story in which a horse and a girl become a couple, and after
they both died, a silkworm was hatched)" brought into Japan from China.

In a temple called "Jisso in" in Saga prefecture (Southern Japan),
there is a stone statue of a goddess stood by a horse. She holds a
cocoon in her left hand and a bundle of silk thread in her right hand.
We can see that folktales of a girl and a horse, and also silkworm
were passed on in many parts of Japan. It could be because looking
after silkworms and horses was a women's job in ancient times and also
a silkworm has a pattern of a horseshoe on its back.

There is a folktale in Ibaraki prefecture (East Japan). A beautiful
princess called Konjiki drifted from Tenjiku (India) passed on
sericulture in exchange for her life. The shrine that kept a record of
this story is Kokage shrine, which is said to be the origin of silk in
Japan. Whether this is a true story or not, sericulture was brought
from a faraway place and thought to be important. People's thought had
turned into a faith definitely.

Sericulture was encouraged by each domain under the government policy
of promoting industry in the Edo period (17-19c). At the end of the
Edo period, epoch-making sericulture technology was invented and it
made sericulture thrive in the Meiji period. Export of silk threads be
came a major way to acquire the foreign currency and it laid the
foundation for 富国強兵 (Fukoku Kyohei: the government policy to improve
the economy and strengthen armaments).

Sericulture industry has gone down for years. Due to the appearance of
alternative cloth, synthetic fiber in Japan, the demand for silk had
dropped. However, silk's distinctive feature, light and delicate
texture, which keeps you cool in summer but warm in winter, is
irreplaceable by any other cloths. There are easily washable silk
knitted products on the market recently, why don't we wear silk and
enjoy a superior feeling?

Translation by: Hitomi Kochi, reviewed by Chan Yee Ting

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Development Organization (JTCO)- All Rights Reserved.

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