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Wazarashi and"Yukata"

Creating subtle color patterns with the chusenho technique

Sakai's natural "Wazarashi" and"Yukata" industries


Comfortable on cool summer evenings and frequently accompanied by a handheld fan, hand-dyed yukata (a type of kimono) are a nostalgic and quintessential part of summer in Japan. Their decorative patterns depicting autumn leaves have conveyed a sense of cool relaxation for centuries. Sakai's yukata dyeing industry traces its roots to the period of reconstruction following World War II when dyeing craftsmen from Osaka fled destruction in that city for the relative safety of Sakai, an area where the wazarashi cloth industry had been flourishing since the middle of the Edo period. Wazarashi, a type of bleached cotton cloth from which impurities have been removed, was being produced in large quantities in the Kena district along the Ishizugawa River, which provided craftsmen with the copious amounts of water required by their trade. A hand-dyeing technique whereby dyes were poured onto cloth took root in Sakai as the wazarashi industry developed, eventually accounting for 70% of the Japanese market. Today, about 30 manufacturers are keeping this traditional industry with 300 years of history alive. It is rare anywhere in Japan for such a large number of companies to be concentrated in a single geographical area.

Skilled craftsmen create a gentle texture

"Wazarashi" and"Yukata"

Yukata cloth is dyed in a multi-step process. First, craftsmen place pattern paper on the cloth and apply paste to prevent dyeing while folding up one pattern at a time, creating a raised border to allow separate pattern areas to be dyed independently of one another. The more the paste spatula wears down during the careful application of the paste, the harder the work. More detailed patterns require greater skill on the part of the artisan. In the dyeing stage, dye is poured onto the cloth while workers regulate a vacuum pump that helps the dye permeate deeper so that the color reaches the back of the cloth. Skill and experience developed over many years allows craftsmen to vary the amount of blurring and the darkness of the color with great subtlety, making each and every design the product of painstaking care and attention. Unlike machine-created prints that are rendered on just the surface of the material, the traditional chusenho technique creates brilliant designs whose colors permeate the entire yukata, ensuring that the garment can be worn for many years with only minimal fading. This is the charm of the traditional yukata, a quality garment that will last through the years, just as the skills of the craftsman have been passed down and continue to make summer a refreshing season.

Example of chusenho dye processing

(1)Masking…Dye-masking paste is applied evenly with a large spatula on top of special pattern paper (called Ise pattern paper). This paste ensures that only certain areas of the pattern are dyed.

(2)Border creation …Dye-masking paste is applied to create a raised border around the outside of the cloth area being dyed to prevent colors from mixing.

(3)Dyeing …Dye is poured carefully onto the masked cloth from above. The dye is sucked down by a vacuum pump behind the cloth to help it permeate deeper. Areas on the cloth that were masked with paste remain white, while unmasked areas are colored by the dye.

(4)Rinsing … Excess dye and paste are washed away, and the cloth is rinsed in a centrifugal dryer.

(5)Drying …The cloth is hung from the ceiling and allowed to dry naturally. If the cloth is to undergo a second dyeing process, it begins from the masking stage.

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Traditional industry

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