The origin of YUZEN dyeing, 1,300 years ago

We can enjoy foliage season here in New York. Compared to mid-Manhattan, the place which I live has many natures. I am impressed by the colored leaves through my room windows. They evoke me kimono’s pattern and color. I think autumn is one of the best seasons to wear kimono in NY.
The other day, I was reading about YUZEN and came up with an interesting YUZEN history.
The original technique of YUZEN dyeing started in the Nara period (710-794). It is called “Roukechi”, meaning wax resist textile (“Rouzome”). YUZEN uses sticky rice for a starch to substitute for wax. The Nara period was the first golden age for pattern dyeing. At that time, three popular pattern dyeing were established; “Roukechi”, “Kokechi”: origin of tie-dyeing (“Shibori-zome”) and “Kyokechi”: origin of board-band-dyeing (“Itajime-zome”). Furthermore, the origin of drawing (“Egakie”) and Woodblock printing (“Surie”), both of which are made by dye and pigment, were established in this period.

Unfortunately, the origin of the YUZEN technique had diminished temporarily. The reason is that people’s fashion had changed. The main fashion of the court in the Heian period (794-1185) was multi-layered court dress (“Kasane-shozoku”), for example twelve-layered kimono (“Jyuni-hitoe”). People focused on Ksane-no-irome, the gradation of the color. You may read about it in my previous article;
Kimono demonstration at Van Gogh Museum”.
There were more than 200 combinations in multi-layered color patterns. The fabrics were dyed by just one color and weaved with the background pattern called “Jimonn”. It’s possible that increased demand of mono-colored fabrics caused break of the complex techniques for pattern printing of fabrics. It’s interesting that the change of beauty sense might cease transmission of original “Yuzen” techniques.

Pictures from catalog of Shoso-in-ten
"Sheep and Tree Rokechi Byobu folding screen"
"Elephant and Tree Rokechi Byobu folding screen"
The exhibition “Shouso-in-ten” was held at Nara City, Japan. Shoso-in is the treasure house that belongs to Todai-ji, which was found in the mid-8th century. Unfortunately, we cannot directly see Shoso-in’s treasures, but we can see them twice a year, because of airing for the treasures. These are the representative works made by the technique, Rokechi, in the Nara period.

In the Jomon period (BC145-BC10), people used season’s flowers and grasses to color the fabrics. These ancient people wanted to trap the natural beauty to their fabrics. I understand their feeling when I see beautiful autumn color of leaves.


Two representative Japanese modern artists came to NY

The international auction company Christie’s and organizer of Kaikai Kiki, Mr. Takashi Murakami will present the Tohoku-Pacific earthquake charity auction on November 9th. A preview of the auction was held at Gagosian Gallery on October 27th. Mr. Takashi Murakami and Mr. Yoshitomo Nara came to the event. Mr. Nara will submit his three art pieces to this auction. This picture was taken when they were interviewed by media at the preview.

Mr. Murakami made a speech to the American media about the background of this charity event for the disaster victims and explained the meanings of his arts pieces which he will submit to the auction. 15 artists are going to join the auction. Most of the art pieces were completed after the disaster and each artist implied his/her feeling for the disaster.

One of the Japanese artists, whose name is “Mr.”, drew a cheerful girl and wrote a hiragana (Japanese character) phrase “I’m going!! [よしっ(ち)!!]”. Many American media made various questions to him. He said the earthquake shock was really big to him, but he thought he should cheer the Japanese people through his work.

Total proceed of the auction is estimated about 5 million dollars. Mr. Murakami set up really a big project. It was my first time to meet with Mr. Murakami and I was overwhelmed by him, because he had a tremendous impact and aura. I hand him my business card and talked with him a little bit. I felt more nervous than ever before. As I used to live near the Tokyo University of the Art (Tokyo Geijutsu Daigaku) before I came to New York, I had many chances to see his works in Japan. I had thought his art gave us power and I really love his works.

I went to the preview with my company staff, Sugiura. It was her first time to directly see his works. She told me with her surprised face, “His real works are wonderful... I am totally impressed”. I was impressed too. I had an impression that his works gave us energy to our spirits, which is very important to our life.

Mr. Murakami’s words and books tell me that art is an expression which conveys messages from artists to people in the world. As I write many times, I always would like to propose Kimono as a fashion to the world. I keenly feel the importance of continuing to covey my message to the world. Last month, one of the world top three news service agencies, AFP reported my kimono fashion show in NYC. I had interviews from Italian fashion magazine, Italian newspaper, and so on. I should continue to propose Kimono as a fashion to the world.

I truly hope the messages from 15 artists will deliver to the world as well as to the disaster victims through this auction.