Kaga-Yuzen: Kimono Painting in Kanazawa

Did you know there are three big Kimono styles in Japan? The first, of course, is the old capital of Kyoto, and the second is the new capital of Tokyo. What is the third? Kanazawa, the hidden gem on the northern coast! They are renowned for their kimono painting technique, Kaga-Yuzen, and we got to try our hand at the craft during our visit to the city.

Kyoto, Tokyo, and Kanazawa Styles 101

The kimono-making style of Kyoto known as Kyo-Yuzen has a lot of extra bells and whistles: embroidery, gold, vibrant colors, and is characterized by the use of geometric shapes. Kyo-Yuzen catered more to the aristocracy throughout history.

You can see examples of Kyo-yuzen in the Arashiyama Kimono Forest!

Tokyo style is known as Edo-Yuzen, did not need as many artisans to complete a single kimono because of its more simple style. These Kimonos tended to depict city life and landscapes with fewer loud colors, opting for more subdued tones and hues. Edo-Yuzen catered more to the merchant class throughout history.

Edo-yuzen on display in the Tokyo National Museum (photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons)

Now we arrive at the eponymous Kaga-Yuzen, which focused on the imperfect nature of, well… nature! It focused a lot on the embodiment of Buddhist values (most commonly associated with the samurai class) and served as a reflection of the calm inherent in the tea ceremony. You would see a focus on refinement from simplicity, landing somewhere between Kyo-Yuzen and Edo-Yuzen with their complexity. Kaga Yuzen catered more to the middle classes.

Our Experience

Our ventures through town lead us to the Kaga-Yuzen Kimono Hall one day, but it was closed at the time. We found the business quite by accident, but what a serendipitous accident, indeed! We came back the following day during business hours to see what it was all about. They had a nice exhibit on the first floor, artisans doing painting demonstrations on the second floor, and a nice gift shop and practice area downstairs. In that practice area, you can sign up for small hour-long sessions where you practice painting your own fabric! You can choose shirts, handkerchiefs, bags, and a few others.

Paints queued up and ready to go!

We chose the handkerchief because it was inexpensive and we didn’t want anything too large that we might not end up using. You then get to choose a pattern you will be painting: They had traditional flower prints, but they also had the city’s mascot: Hyakuman-san. So of course we went with the cute mascot with the incredible mustache.

Nice and tight, so you can get as much of the fabric painted as possible

They give you a couple of examples of how to color your print, but everything is ultimately up to you. They then showed us how to dip our brushes, how much ink to use, and how to approach the blending of colors (dark to light, with the light base being painted on first). The teacher asks if you have any questions, and then you have one hour to hang out, paint your cloth, and chill.

The example on the top, and my recreation on the bottom. Not bad!

Once you’re done, the instructor will help you dry your ink before removing the pattern guidelines. See, they dissolve in water, so once you are ready, you dip them into some cool water and rub them to remove the pattern, leaving behind only your painted parts and clean lines that form the shape of the pattern!

Rubbing lines off in cool water

We love doing things like this on trips: It’s a nice way to take a break, breathe, and do a little art therapy while learning more about the culture of the city you’re in. If you’re in Kanazawa, definitely look into doing a class like this! The prices depend on what you are painting (larger items, like a bag or a t-shirt, will cost more), but you get a lovely souvenir with a nice story attached! We highly recommend giving it a go!

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