Yuichi Hirose is the fourth-generation president of 90-year old HIROSE DYE-WORKS. Edo komon originates from the kamishimo garment worn by the samurai class and is a traditional craft with a 400-year history. The company actively engages in activities to expand the art of this craft throughout Japan and the rest of the world. Fashion Headline visited the company’s factory and interviewed Mr. Hirose.

Founded in 1918, the company operates a factory in Ochiai, Tokyo, where the Kanda and Myoshoji Rivers meet. The area is depicted in ukiyoe (woodblock prints) as the place where fireflies gathered in pursuit of clean water. HIROSE DYE-WORKS has passed on its stencil dyeing techniques for four generations and provided kimono to many Kabuki actors.

Upon our visit, we were first introduced to the stenciling area. A white texture is stretched onto a single board made of fir wood and then layered with a katagami (pattern). Colored starch decorates the texture using a spatula. The most important task in the dyeing process is stenciling engraved designs onto the texture. The amount of starch and the speed to move the spatula have to be adjusted depending on the sizes of the engraved designs. This requires the precious skills of the artisans. Since the sizes of the stencils are smaller than those of the textures, the process needs to be repeated 40 to 50 times to complete one texture, and the process must be finished in one day and during the morning, while sunlight shines into the room, to avoid unevenness in coloring. A great deal of concentration is required for the task.

Next, we were taken to the area where all the patterns are stored. Over 4,000 are stored in a three-tatami room. Three pieces of washi (Japanese paper) soaked with persimmon tannin are layered to add durability to the patterns. The designs of the patterns are intricately drawn onto the washi. A pattern can be used between 30 to 50 times, but does not last permanently. Each pattern is preserved by recreating the designs onto new washi once the previous one can no longer be used. Since the patterns are made of washi, they become dry very easily, which makes the monitoring of the humidity of the room very important. In the past, disciples would live in the room to check the condition of the patterns by hand and also make sure that none of them were stolen.

“Designs today, when compared to those from the past, have different energy levels and audacity. Antique designs reflect the spirits and dynamism of those who sold the textures in order to purchase food. Recently, the designs themselves are very delicate and serves as the charm,” explained Mr. Hirose.

There is a Shigoki space next to the stenciling space. This is a room to peel off the texture from the board when the starch gets dry, followed by dyeing the entire texture with base color starch. With the application of a roller, the texture can be dyed evenly. Dusting sawdust over the overlaid parts prevents the starch from sticking and the dye from seeping into surrounding areas. The Shigoki space is located in the north of the factory where the air is humid, with the stenciling space in the south where sunlight shines.

Some factories handle only the stenciling, steaming, washing or drying process, however, HIROSE DYE-WORKS manages all processes with six artisans, its self-contained techniques and facilities.

To be continued into 2/2.