Tokyo Yuzen

By Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Kimono with wave design, Tokyo yuzen (1955) by Nakamura Katsuma (1894-1982)Original Source: Mito City Museum

The origins of Tokyo Yuzen

Yuzen refers to a resist dyeing method using paste, and in particular hand-painted paste-resist, whereby the patterns are outlined with thin thread-like lines of paste and then these contours colored in by hand. The technique, development centered in Kyoto during the mid-Edo Genroku era (1688-1704), is said to have been brought to the Asakusa, Nihonbashi, and Kanda areas of Edo (present-day Tokyo) by dyers attached to certain daimyo in the early 1800s. Although, however, Tokyo was the main consumption area for Yuzen kimonos, it was not actively produced there until the modern era.

Views of Mitsui Gofuku-ten (1896) by Mitsui gofuku-ten, TokyoOriginal Source: Waseda University Library

Industry Led by a Long-Established Department

In response to the increase in demand for kimono from the end of the Meiji period through the Taisho period, it was the major kimono supply stores (gofukuya), which would later become department stores, that led the Tokyo Yuzen industry. Typically, many of the Japanese department stores started out in the Edo period as gofukuya or as secondhand kimono stores. 

Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi Main StoreKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

For example, the Mitsukoshi Department Store we know now was established in 1673 as a gofukuya named “Echigoya”. With their knowledge of kimono, the gofukuya soon became involved in not only the sales of Yuzen, but also its production. In 1895, the "Mitsui Gofukuten" of Mitsukoshi set up a design department where they hired Japanese‐style painters on a commission basis and worked to develop new patterns. Also, in 1902, they started recruitting designs from the public for the bottom borders (susomoyo) of kimono.

Nakamura Katsuma in his studio, Tokyo Yuzen (1975) by Nakamura Katsuma (1894-1982)Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

From Yuzen Production Based on Division of
Labor to Yuzen as Artistic Creation

Working under Masuyama  Ryuho at Mitsukoshi, Nakamura Katsuma acquired not only the art of sketching designs but also the skills of Yuzen dyeing, and with these he started his career as a Yuzen kimono artist. Yuzen is a technique with many processes. These includes sketching the design (shitazu): tracing the design (shitae): drawing the design on the fabric with aobana (dayflower) juice (nuno ni shitae); applying paste resist (norioki); brushing in colors (irosashi); covering the painted areas with paste (norifuse) before brushing on the background color (hikizome or jizome); steaming the fabric in high temperature to fix the dye (mushi); washing the fabric so that all resistant is removed (mizuarai); and steaming the fabric to remove wrinkles as well as straighten and adjust the width of the cloth (yunoshi). Initially Yuzen was produced with division of labor for each process, but beginning in the late 1910s and especially after the 1930s, Yuzen artists began to appear who drew their own designs, applied the paste themselves, and painted in the colors.                            

Kimono with wave design, Tokyo yuzen (1955) by Nakamura Katsuma (1894-1982)Original Source: Mito City Museum

A Path
to Becoming a Yuzen Dyer ①

There was two ways to become a Yuzen dyer in modern Japan. One was to start as a Yuzen designer and then acquire dyeing skills such as norioki and irosashi . Masuyama Ryuho and Nakamura Katsuma are representative examples.

Kimono with dicentra design, Tokyo Yuzen (2009) by Tajima Hiroshi (1922-2014)Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

A Path
in Becoming a Yuzen Dyer ②

Another path was to start as a Yuzen artisan, especially the pattern masters, craftsmen who traced the Yuzen designs on to the
fabric, took the designing process into their own hands.  For example, Tajima Hiroshi, (designated Yuzen Important Intangible Cultural Property), apprenticed under pattern masters, Takamura Syoko and his son Takamura Ryuji. Also, the fifth generation pattern master, Ito Heigoro has trained many of the Yuzen dyers today.

Kimono with clouds and waves design, Tokyo Yuzen (1980) by Nakamura Kouya (1922-2002)Original Source: Mito City Museum

Expansion to University Education

After the war, art colleges such as Tokyo University of the Arts and Bunsei
University of Art in Tochigi Prefecture started to teach Yuzen as an academic subject. Tokyo was the first to have a specialized curriculum
for Yuzen as a higher education
subject. Endeavoring to disseminate Yuzen, Nakamura Katsuma's son, Nakamura Kouya, worked hard to establish the dyeing
course at Tokyo University of the

Tools for tatakinori and tenbyo, Tokyo YuzenKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Characteristics of Tokyo Yuzen Technique – Tatakinori and Tenbyonori

In order to create a mottled effect, Tokyo Yuzen uses liquid paste, unlike Kyoto Yuzen, which sprinkles dry pellets of paste (makinori) over the fabric. Other methods of creating a mottled effect include tapping on paste with a pad (tatakinori) and creating paste dots using a tipped funnel (tenbyo).

Placing drops of paste, Tokyo Yuzen by Takahashi KanKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory


Son of a pattern master, Kan Takahashi is a Yuzen dyer born after WWII who trained under Nakamura Katsuma and Yamada Mitsugi. He creates his designs by placing drops of paste one by one.

Kimono with rhombus pattern, Tokyo Yuzen (2015) by Takahashi KanKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

The Essence of Yuzen Production
– Norioki (applying the paste)

The essential technique of Yuzen production is the application of the paste (norioki). One result of a single person doing the entire process, was a progressive enhancement of the expressive idiom of Yuzen. Not limited to drawing the delicate even lines produced by craftsmen, freehand lines (senbyo) and gradations created by different densities of spontaneous dots (tenbyo) also became possible. Another fetcher characteristic of Tokyo Yuzen is the cool colored tones in contrast to the more vibrant hues of Kyoto and others.

Credits: Story

Images provided by:
Mito City Museum
Waseda University Library
Japan Kogei Association
Takahashi Kan
Nakamura Kasami

Todate Kazuko, Tama Art University

English Translation:
Miyo Kurosaki Bethe

Exhibition created by:
Nakatani Nagisa
Nagatomo Kana

Project Directer:
Dr Maezaki Shinya, Professor, Kyoto Women's University
Dr Yamamoto Masako, Ritsumeikan University

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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