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A Short History of Yuzen Dyeing

Yuzen Dyeing was invented in the middle of Edo era (around 1700) by Miyazaki Yuzen-sai, and has been the ultimate art of kimono dyeing ever since. The term Yuzen Dyeingappears in "Gen-Siki-Kan", a book of fashion survey published in 1687. It also can be found in "Kosyoku Itidai Otoko", a famous comedy of the age by Ihara Saikaku. They say that once Yuzen have come into style, 20 of other dyeing styles were extinct. This may be an exaggeration but is implying how greately Yuzen affected the dyeing culture.

The primary reason of the success of Yuzen can be found in its design. Traditional design motifs are those from Heian era, back in 1000s, includiing flowers and trees. They can be either naturalistic or abstract. Yuzen also has superiority technically: the color is stable and water registant, wide range of fabric can be used and their characteristics are retained after dyeing, etc. An advantage of Yuzen dyeing is that very precise and thin lines, even hard to atchieve with stitchwork can be done, besides very beautiful bluring is another characteristics of it. Many moderate and neutral colors and gradation can be expressed in Yuzen, painting in which matches the humid cilmate of Japan (vivid colors may appear too loud some times).

Traditional Yuzen process is described below. This is only 1 cycle and it is repeated overtime acording to the design.

  1. Base drawing is done with the spiderwort flower juice. The color washes off later in water rinse.
  2. The base drawing is over-drawn with protection glue. This glue is traditionally made from a very sticky kind of rice, and now replaced with synthetic rubber glue, with which even thinner lines can be drawn.
  3. Areas surrounded by the glue is painted with bean juice. This will soak the glue deeper to avoid color leaking out the area and the color look better.
  4. Now paint the area. Boundary part is painted with small brush, to express very sharp line or beautiful blur.
  5. Heat dry the painting. Areas next to each other can not be painted without drying, therefore complecated designs with many small areas takes enormous time to finish.
  6. Cover the painted parts with protection glue and paint the base color.
  7. Water rinse the fabric and repair the deformation.
Each process is done by a specialist and the person who integrates and manages their work is called Senshyo (Dyeing Meister)

The design of Yuzen has inspired all the other fashion and other designs. After the restriction on ostentatious decoration was introduced by Edo shogunate (feudal government), only the calm, neutral colored designs were succeeded and established today's Yuzen feeling.

Besides the drastic Yuzen boom in Kyoto, another stream of Yuzen design was born in Kaga area by Miyazaki. He spent his last years there and brushed up the local folk craft there to an art. It was named Kaga-Yuzen afterwards. Typical Kyo-Yuzen design is more symbolic and Kaga-Yuzen is more naturalistic. The coloring of each Yuzen has different taste. However, the difference between original Yuzen in Kyoto (Kyo-Yuzen) and Kaga-Yuzen is not very clear.

An evolution of Yuzen dyeing technique took part in the very first of Meiji era, the end of 1860s when artificial dye was introduced in Japan. Yuzen dyeing today is even more active in use of artificial, or chemical dyestuffs. Design motif and style has changed as well and more up-to-date taste design can be found today. In the days of Meiji Restoration, painters of Shijo-ha group were engaged in Yuzen. They contributed in naturalistic design of Yuzen.

Today, in the age of globalization not only in our dressing but in whole culture, we should not think little of traditional culture and ethetic sense based on the nature and climate. Yuzen is definitly a very important essence of it.

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