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Edo Komon: The History of Traditional Patterns in Japanese Kimono

Edo Komon refers to a traditional Japanese dying technique. Nowadays, it is recognized mainly as patterns of kimono, but in fact it is a highly artisanal dying technique. This article will go through the history of edo komon as well as introduce places where you can see and experience this craft for yourself.

 

History of Edo Komon

江戸小紋

edo-komon-kamishimo
Kamishimo (Men’s Kimono) in Edo Komon, http://www.printsofjapan.com/

Edo Komon (Tokyo Some Komon) is a style of stencil dying that was developed in the Muromachi Period (1336–1573). At the time, the technique was used to dye family crests on weaponry and armors. Later in the early Edo Period (1603-1868) it became standard to dye the kamishimo (kimono outfit worn by samurai and courtiers during the Edo period). There were many samurai that would wear the mark symbolizing their clan.

However, during the Edo Period, sumptuary laws were frequently put into effect. The luxurious prints of the edo komon were not exempt from regulation and often became target for ban. The technique that was devised to get around it was to make the patterns so fine that if seen from afar, it would look like a solid color. Indeed this fine detailed pattern is the characteristic of the current edo komon. Thus, this is how the edo komon developed. It is said that the more prestigious the samurai, the finer the pattern on their garb. As a result of testing and trying to not infringe on the laws, the highly skilled dying technique was developed.

An example relating to Sumptuary Laws: Kanzashi: A Hair Ornament Vital to Kimono and Apprentice Geisha & Maiko

edo-komon-kimono2
Kimono Fabric in Edo Komon, http://www.wahuku.com/

In the mid Edo Period, the edo komon became popular amongst the trendy and fashion forward townspeople of Edo. The trend spread from the samurai to the common people as well. This was about the time when variety in pattern developed such as animals, plants and other auspicious prints. The popularity spread from men to women as well and was widely used in kimono. 

In fact, there is an even more opulent and colorful type of dying called Edo Sarasa. Edo Sarasa is a mixed technique of Indian born patterns and Japanese stencil dying.

 

Tomita Sen Kogei

富田染工芸

edo-komon-kimono3
http://www.loftwork.com/

There is a workshop in Tokyo that has preserved its traditions of edo komon since its foundation in the Meiji period. The Tomita Sen Kogei is a traditional workshop specializing in edo komon for about 150 years. It is located along the Kanda-gawa River in Shinjuku, Tokyo. The area along the river was a suitable locale for dying as it provided plenty of water that was needed to wash the dyes during the dying process. It is said that many craftsmen of dying worked in this area. Edo was historically an area known for its dyes, rivaling Kyoto and Kanazawa.

edo-komon-kimono4
Stencil made of Washi (Japanese Paper), http://www.loftwork.com/

What’s amazing about the Tomita Sen Kogei is that they own about 120,000 pieces of stencils used in dying. The stencils are used over and over and they are hand-made one by one with premium handmade Japanese washi-paper that has been specially treated. So you see how impressive it is to have over 120,000 of these. These stencils are still used in the current process.

edo-komon-kimono5
http://babashinbun.com/

The reason we introduced the Tomita Sen Kogei is because you are able to see the entire process of the edo komon from the stenciling, drying, dying, steaming, washing and finishing. Visitors are also able to participate and experience the process as well. News of this interesting tour of the workshop and experience has spread through word of mouth and the workshop has become a popular destination from many overseas tourists. 

 

You are able to take home not only kimono fabric but other items such as scarves, pocket squares, neckties. We would invite you to visit and experience the traditional Japanese craft. 

Access: Along the Kanda-gawa River, Omokagebashi Station on the Toden Arakawa Line, Map

Related: Maki-e: A Traditional Technique with Marvelous Freedom of Expression

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