Kyo Yuzen 京友禅

The art of dyeing

Kyō yuzen , a technique for dyeing fabrics, developed in the early 18th century in Kyoto, has been recognized and protected as a traditional craft by the government since 1976. The craftsmen of the delicate art of yuzen demonstrate exceptional know-how; animating like magicians the precious white silks with elegant and sumptuous colored patterns.


The complex technique of kyo yuzen



A complex technique

Yuzen is a complex process including the transfer of decorative patterns, gluing, coloring, steaming and rinsing of glue. Its main characteristic is based on the itome-nori process which allows very fine detailing of the patterns and multiple colors. It consists of applying a paste made from steamed glutinous rice powder to the contours of the pattern. Acting as a protection during coloring, the starch prevents juxtaposed colors from mixing. Let's see the whole process in more detail: once the preliminary pattern has been drawn on the white fabric, its contours are delimited by the itome-nori technique . The background color is applied by brushing then the fabric is rinsed. The other colors are painted successively. Finally, the fabric is steamed and thoroughly rinsed to rid it of starch. Finally, decorations with gold or silver leaf as well as embroidery are affixed. All of these steps involve many skilled artisans to the point that yuzen has been officially recognized and protected as a traditional craft by the government since 1976.



Application of the nori atom on the outlines of the patterns


Brush application of background color

Last step: rinsing


Over time, three styles of yuzen have appeared according to the regions, cultures and specificities of the clientele.


  • Kyō yuzen (京友禅)

Kyô yuzen is the technique developed by Miyazaki Yûzensai, used in the Kyoto and Uji region. This is the most luxurious and extravagant style , making extensive use of embroidery, gold and silver leaf to cater to the aristocratic clientele of the court. Its manufacture requires dozens of steps as well as the intervention of several craftsmen. The patterns are made using a gradation of colors: the darkest are in the center and the lightest towards the outside of the pattern.


  • Kaga yuzen (加賀友禅)

Kaga yuzen originated in Ishikawa prefecture following the arrival of Yûzensai in Kanazawa in 1712. This style has long flourished under the patronage of the feudal lords of Kaga district. Inspired by realism , this yuzen uses plant and flower motifs . The search for realism is pushed to the extreme in the mushi kui technique in which the petals and leaves appear as if bitten by insects! The mushi kui expresses the transience of nature . The patterns are available in five tones called kaga gosai : indigo blue, crimson red, yellow ochre, dark green and violet. Kaga yuzen is also characterized by bokashi , a gradation of colors from the outside to the inside of the pattern.


  • Tokyo yuzen or Edo yuzen (東京友禅 or 江戸友禅)

The aesthetic of Tokyo yuzen is decidedly simpler. It depicts the life and culture of Edo merchants in its motifs . The people of Edo wanted to have elegant kimonos that adhered to the latest fashion trends without violating the prevailing sumptuary laws. Unlike other yuzen , only one craftsman is involved here in the making process.



Gold leaf patterns of a Kyo yuzen kimono

Kimonos made using the kaga yuzen technique


Tokyo yuzen kimono

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