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Nambu Hishi Zashi

The term nambu hishi zashi refers to a stitched lozenge pattern that is characteristic for the embroidery from the Nambu district, Japan.

It is one of the Sashiko embroidery forms from the eastern part of the Aomori prefecture, which is located in the northeastern part of Honshu Island, Japan.

The area was formerly in the domain of the Nambu feudal lords. At first glance, nambu hishi zashi looks very similar to kogin, another form associated with this part of Japan, but nambu hishi zashi has a different character. The farmers of the Nambu district had their own looms and wove their own ramie cloth. The stitched ramie material was often backed with a white cotton, or combined with indigo dyed cotton. The ramie ground material used for nambu hishi zashi is a paler blue colour in comparison to that used for kogin embroidery and garments. It is said the Nambu farmers were poorer and could not afford to indigo dye the cloth as often as necessary in order to get the deeper colour.

Nambu hishi zashi is traditionally stitched with black and white cotton yarns, but in c. 1910 colourful wool threads became available. These yarns were softer and more fragile than cotton, as well as being more expensive, so they were only used for aprons worn on special occasions. Nambu hishi zashi stitching is carried out using a running stitch. The design is created by counting the even number of warps, unlike kogin, which is done mostly by counting odd number of warps. The patterns are horizontal and wider than kogin forms and the basic Nambu hishi zashi pattern form is a lozenge.

The sharp corners of the lozenge patterns were believed to counter evil. The patterns used have various names including, ‘plum flowers,’ ‘saddles for cattle,’ ‘horse eyes,’ ‘fishing nets,’ ‘leg of peasant,’ etc. It is estimated that there are several hundred pattern variations and combinations. The arrangement of patterns is similar to that of the attush of the ethnic minority of the Ainu on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.

Nambu hishi zashi can be seen on a farmer’s working coat, especially the coat front, but also on the hems of the sleeves and at the hems of the garments, placed in order to strengthen these regions and make the coats more suitable for the hard work associated with vegetable fields and mountains. In contrast, kogin is only stitched on the front panels and shoulder area of the jackets worn by farmers working in the rice fields; the embroidery is thus well away from the water associated with the fields.

Nambu hishi zashi is also used for decorative aprons (medare), women’s working trousers (tattsuke), socks, as well as clothing for special occasions, such as weddings and festivals, as well as for going to the market to sell products. It is in fact very rare in Japan for such dense stitching to be carried out on female farmer’s working trousers (tattsuke), but it was necessary to do so in order to protect the wearer from insect bites and plant thorns.

See also the TRC entries on tugaro kogin and shonai sashiko.


  • CHUZABURO, Tanaka (2009). Zusetsu Michinoku no Kofu no Sekai (An illustrated book of old clothes in Michinoku), Tokyo: Kawaide Shobo Shinsha.
  • INAX Gallery Project committee (1998). Tsugaru kogin to Sashiko– Hataraki-gi ha utsukushi, Tokyo: Inax Publishing.
  • OGIKUBO, Kiyoko (1993). Kogin and Sashiko Stitch – from Kyoto Shoin’s Art Library of Japanese Textiles, vol. 13, Kyoto, Kyoto–Shoin.


Last modified on Wednesday, 03 May 2017 16:57