Two aging weavers are integral to keeping the centuries-old Kasedori folklore event going. Unless replacements can be found, it is feared the festival will die out. (Sen Inoue)

KAMINOYAMA, Yamagata Prefecture--A shortage of craftsmen could spell the death knell for a centuries-old annual folklore event here that has already weathered the storm once before.

Held each Feb. 11, Kasedori, as it is called, is on the verge of dying out due to a lack of young weavers to make the “kendai” straw capes and “fuyu waraji” sandals worn in winter by participants when snow is deep on the ground.

These items are now woven by two artisans, aged 79 and 85, who realize they can't keep going much longer and are desperate to nurture youngsters to take over.

“We want to hand down the Kasedori festival to future generations in any way we can. We need at least a couple of successors for both kendai and fuyu waraji weaving,” said Kenichi Osawa, head of the city-based Kasedori preservation society.

Kasedori is believed to have originated in the early Edo Period (1603-1867), but was discontinued in the Meiji Era (1868-1912). It was revived in 1959.

But now there are new concerns that this long tradition could be coming to an end again unless successors to the two aging weavers can be found.

Early last December, Akio Endo, 79, was weaving kendai capes in a workshop in the city’s Narage district, while Saikichi Endo, 85, crafted waraji sandals.

The younger Endo uses a straw weaving machine that has been in the district for generations.

Kendai is a “mino” cape measuring well over 1 meter below the waist that is worn from the head and intended to portray “kasedori,” a bird-like incarnation of a deity. The straw, braided to make it cone-shaped, is worn like a dress, with holes cut out for the arms and head. The rims of the openings are given an extra weave to give the material additional strength.

Endo started making kendai capes around 1990 at the request of the city-based Kasedori preservation society. Based on notes left by his predecessors, he has added his own twists; for example, he recalibrated the weaving machine. On a good day, he can make one kasedori.

Saikichi, on the other hand, has been making fuyu waraji sandals for 30 years.

He has to crouch while he works and knots straw cords pinched between his toes.

Traditionally, only men make waraji during winter because of the cold and the need for nimble fingers, according to the preservation society. The craftsmen are compensated for their efforts, but basically toil on an almost voluntary basis.

“It is a kind of work you can’t do unless you really love doing it,” Saikichi said.

The unique kasedori festival gets its name from the straw coats worn by participants, usually 30 or so, who dance and jump around the city center crying out “ka-ka-kaa” to mimic crows and wish for business prosperity and family harmony.

Because the event starts in the morning and the kendai cape must be replaced in the afternoon, two kendai are necessary for each participant. The preservation society has about 70 kendai in stock, but it has to scrap 10 each year that are the worse for wear when the proceedings are finished. The society, founded in 1986, says it expects to also run out of straw sandals in a few years.

It has endeavored to train successors to the Endo siblings, but has been unable to find kendai weavers who can work on their own. As for the straw sandals, the members have no idea where to find likely candidates to keep the tradition going.

Osawa, 58, said the solution to recruiting volunteers who want to join the ritual as kasedori may be to go online and ascertain interest.

Saikichi came down with knee problems and couldn’t weave the sandals two winters ago.

“I want to keep making them as long as I can, but I’d be happy if young people volunteer to do it together,” he said.