From August 21st–22nd, sedge hat-making techniques (nationally designated as an Intangible Folk Cultural Property in 2009) passed down in the former town of Fukuoka (now part of the City of Takaoka), Toyama Prefecture were studied.
Sedge hats were originally a folk implement that was ordinarily used as protection from the sun or as rain gear. Today, however, these hats serve as props in folk performing arts or period dramas (especially those about feudal Japan) or as folk decorations. Sedge hats in Ecchu-Fukuoka were known as “Kaga Hats” since the days of Japan’s feudal domains, and these hats enjoyed wide use because of their high quality. Today, Ecchu-Fukuoka accounts for 90% of the output of sedge hats nationwide, making it the premier site of hat-making.
Sedge hat-making is divided into several steps: growing sedge (the raw material for a hat), making the hat’s framework, and sewing the hat (sewing sedge onto the hat’s framework). In the past, men made the hat framework while women sewed the hat as a sideline activity during the off-season. The steps of sedge growing and making the hat framework in particular are seriously suffering from a lack of individuals to carry on the technique. As an example, the number of individuals who cultivate sedge fields completely by hand is decreasing yearly. According to a survey by the Association to Preserve Ecchu-Fukuoka Sedge Hat-making Techniques, the area of sedge growth in the city has shrunk to less than 100 ares (1 hectare). During the heyday of sedge hat-making, there were around 200 craftsmen who made the hat framework, but currently Mr. KIMURA Shoji, a craftsman in his late 80s, is the only craftsman still doing so. The current reality is that not enough people have been trained to carry on the technique, so supply is unable to keep up with existing orders.
In light of these circumstances, the Association to Preserve Ecchu-Fukuoka Sedge Hat-making Techniques and the City of Takaoka’s Fukuoka General Administration Center have led the charge with comprehensive steps to pass on sedge hat-making techniques. A wide range of activities have been used thus far to pass on the culture of sedge hats, including efforts to ascertain the area of cultivated sedge fields, efforts to create records of the cultivation of sedge fields (a manual), discussions with hat makers, sales demonstrations, workshops to teach hat-making, and identification of companies to make needles to sew sedge hats. In August 2012, the Committee to Preserve Sedge Hat-making was established, and in August 2013 the Ecchu-Fukuoka Sedge Growers Association was established. These organizations are transcending boundaries as they liaise with the Regional Development Section and the Economic Development Section, the Fukuoka Educational Administration Center, the Cultural Properties Division, and the Agriculture and Fisheries Section (this section is heavily involved in sedge growing).
Designation of folk techniques as an Important Folk Cultural Property began in 2005, but the preservation and utilization of these techniques has not been fully discussed. Information on the issues involved, steps to take, and the feasibility of those steps was not been adequately shared. The various efforts to preserve sedge hat-making techniques in Ecchu-Fukuoka warrant close attention as a case study involving the preservation and utilization of folk techniques.