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Goin’ Japanesque!

Differences in the 3 Major Styles of Yuzen: Traditional Kimono Dyeing Techniques

Have you paid attention to the different impressions you feel from looking at the patterns of a kimono? For example, you may feel some are vivid and colorful, while others are sexy and sophisticated. If you have noticed these differences, you may be picking up on the differences of “Yuzen”. Today, we provide you with some information about different dyeing methods so you can enjoy Japanese kimono even more. Ref: Photo


About Yuzen


Yuzen is a method of dyeing for Japanese traditional kimono robes. It is called yuzen as it was a method developed by a painter in Kyoto, Miyazaki Yuzen Sai. The most distinctive feature of the yuzen is a process called the itome-nori; it is a technique of placing starch (nori) on the lines of the patterns so that the juxtaposing colors do not mix. The itome-nori allows use of multiple colors and fine detailed patterns. 

The Step by Step Process of Yuzen:

  1. A preliminary pattern is drawn on white fabric which will later become the kimono
  2. The lines of the preliminary pattern are traced with itome-nori (acts as a boundary)
  3. Color is inserted in the preliminary pattern. Fusenori (starch resistant to dye) is placed over the dyed preliminary sketch
  4. The base color is dyed (the fusenori prevents color from going into the print)
  5. All the starch is washed off

The yuzen dyeing, which was innovative at the time, allows for multiple colors to be used in the kimono for a pattern that has the appearance of being hand-painted. There are 3 different types of Yuzen as indicated below.


1. Kyo Yuzen


Region: Kyoto
Underlying Culture: Aristocratic Culture
Distinctive Features: It often has lavish designs or patterns and is decorated heavily with gold and silver leaf or embroidery. It is the most extravagant out of the three major styles of yuzen.


The Kyo Yuzen, favored by princesses and people of the inner palace is luxurious, uses an abundance of color and is very exquisite. An authentic Kyo Yuzen kimono is made from several dozen steps, and with numbers of Kyo Yuzen artisans each specializing in a different aspect of each step. Also the color gradation technique of using darker colors toward the center of the flower that becomes lighter towards the outside is another distinctive characteristic of this style.

Gold Leaf and Embroidery,

The height fromm the embroidered thread gives a very realistic finish. The hand feel may also be similar to Japanese washi paper.


2. Kaga Yuzen


Region: Ishikawa Prefecture (Kaga Clan)
Underlying Culture: Samurai Culture
Distinctive Features: It often depicts plants and flowers in a painterly and realistic style. The colors are more muted and sleek rather than vivid. Mushi-kui or insect bitten.


The Kaga Yuzen is an independent development of the Kyo Yuzen in the Kanazawa area (Kaga clan) of Ishikawa Prefecture. At the time, Miyazaki Yuzen had brought the Kyo Yuzen to this area himself. The characteristic features of gold and silver leaf or embroidery seen in Kyo Yuzen is rarely seen in the Kaga Yuzen; instead a shading technique is used. Unlike the Kyo Yuzen, the inside of the flower is shaded and the color is darker going outwards.

Mushi kui 虫食い (Insect Bitten)

Additionally, there is a distinctive feature called the mushi-kui which means insect bitten. This is representative of Kaga Yuzen’s aesthetic of trying to depict the transience of nature as he saw it. Even a leaf bitten by an insect is realistically portrayed as a pattern in the kimono.


3. Tokyo Yuzen (Edo Yuzen)


Region: Tokyo (Edo)
Underlying Culture: Mercantile Culture
Distinctive Features: It often uses designs that depict the lives of merchants. The colors are muted but you can feel the aesthetic and stylishness of the city.


Tokyo Yuzen is not as famous as Kyo Yuzen of Kaga Yuzen; it is a style of yuzen that heavily depicts the culture of the Edo merchants. We have mentioned in many of our other articles that the merchants of the Edo period had restrictions on fashion because of sumptuary laws. This Tokyo Yuzen was no exception from this law and shows the spirit of the Edo people who wanted to enjoy fashion without standing out too much. The Tokyo Yuzen does not use numerous artisans specializing in specific skills as the Kyo Yuzen does, but rather, in many cases, a single piece is completed by a single artisan.


So you see that though they may all be yuzen, they have had individual developments depending on the different regions and cultures. These developments have occurred in the single country of Japan for this art, but it is comparable to certain aspects of culture developing differently in different countries such as in the Eastern Style, or Western Style. After having seen the 3 different yuzen, which one do you think suits you the best?

Edo Komon: The History of Traditional Patterns in Japanese Kimono
Suminagashi: The Traditional Art of Paper Marbling

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