June 01, 2024

Inheriting straw craft techniques and turning them into wearable art
Hanase WARA
Momoko Fujii


Interviewed by Aki Miyashita
Photo courtesy of Hanase WARA

amirisu featured @ Hanase wara ▲Ruffle bracelet woven made with grass


A graceful, ruffled bracelet. Earrings like leaves that nestle close to the ears. Momoko Fuji of Hanase WARA creates jewelry that has a unique form, elegant and simple. When worn, they are light and blend in with the skin. The basis of her creations is a traditional handcraft, straw work.


amirisu featured @ Hanase wara

▲Leaf-like ear accessory. Originally from straw sandals.


Hanase, a mountainous village in Kyoto, is about an hour's drive from the center of Kyoto City. Momoko was born and raised there and still uses it as her base. Straw craft is a tool for daily life made of woven rice straw and other materials. Various techniques have taken root in different regions, including shimenawa (sacred straw ropes), pot stands, straw sandals, baskets, etc., and these have been woven into Hanase as well.


“I had never been interested in straw work because it was common in my parents' house," says Momoko. “I was curious about how they were made, so I asked a local grandmother to teach me how to make them. Plastic has taken over and fewer and fewer people are making these, but it would be a shame to let them die out. When I started working with my hands, I felt the urge to learn the technique. I had a gut feeling that I could make fashionable accessories that young people would wear.”


Momoko majored in printmaking at Kyoto City University of Arts, but sensing great potential, she started Hanase WARA. She exhibited her works at "THE GIFT BOX," an event organized by the university, and "dialog kyoto," a trade fair introducing crafts and handicrafts. Her work caught the eye of creators from her alma mater as well as buyers from department and specialty stores, opening the way for her to start her own business.


Momoko uses rice straw and grass as materials. She grows rice straw herself in the rice paddies of Hanase. The process begins with growing seedlings, followed by rice planting and weeding, and continues with physical labor. The harvesting season is divided into three separate periods: early rice harvesting, rice harvesting, and then drying the rice by hanging it out to dry. One must be careful not to expose the rice to too much sun or it will lose its color, and also not expose it to rain. Once dry, it is then cleaned and a further selection is done carefully. It is then hammered with a wooden mallet until it is finally ready for use.


amirisu featured @ Hanase wara


“With the help of my relatives and the desire to use good materials, I cultivate a variety called "Asahimochi," which grows over 120 cm tall and has thick, firm stems that are suitable for straw craft.”

“Straw is a natural product, so each one is a little different from the next. If a piece of straw with a different thickness gets mixed in, it will look bad, so we sort it according to color, thickness, and firmness. It is a time-consuming but very important process, and I was very happy when a master straw craftsman in her 90s told me, "The rice straw grown by Momoko is wonderful,” she says.

amirisu featured @ Hanase wara


Grass (Chinese fountain grass), a plant that grows wild in the Hanase area, is also used as a material. It is also used as a string to tie bamboo leaves in chimaki (cake wrapped in bamboo leaves), which means that it is very durable. It is harvested, dried, cleaned, and sorted during a limited period from the end of July to the beginning of August. Like rice straw, this work is also done by hand.

“In my work, I think about how to weave a design, or I am inspired by traditional forms such as sacred straw ropes and bales. I sometimes develop my designs from my favorite shapes like chains and gourd shapes.”

“What I always value is the warmth of straw. I combine it with freshwater pearls, silk, mizuhiki (an ancient Japanese artform of knot-tying), and other materials, but I always value the beauty of the straw form. I want to pursue a unique form that can be found nowhere else, a form that only I can create.”


amirisu featured @ Hanase wara

▲Ear accessory with a straw lid motif, “SUN”.

The color of the straw is greenish at first, but it changes as it is exposed to the sun and light. Straw is lightweight and has a striking shape, but because it is a natural material, it goes with any outfit more comfortably than one might expect.


amirisu featured @ Hanase wara

The greenish color of the straw changes over time due to exposure to sunlight.

While focusing on making artworks, Momoko is also involved in making shimenawa for temples and shrines. With the number of makers dwindling, she does the best she can, and holds straw craft workshops and teaches the craft to the next generation of local residents.


“Shimenawa are used in Shinto shrines to dispel ominous things. I hope that people will wear straw jewelry like a good luck charm and that it brings them happiness. I want people to enjoy straw jewelry as a wearable art form that brings Japanese culture closer to them.”


The next step is feeling the goodness of the piece. Please feel the warmth of straw jewelry by holding it in your hands and wearing it.

amirisu fearuted @ Hanase wara

▲New Year's shimenawa decorations, “choroken”





amirisu featured @ Hanase wara

Momoko Fujii

Born and raised in Hanase, Kyoto, she started "Hanase WARA" in 2013 from straw crafts taught by local elderly people. She learns from masters in and outside of the region, grows her own rice, and procures the materials. Exploring the possibilities of straw, she creates jewelry and objects with originality. Information about exhibitions and other activities are posted on Instagram.