“Sensho” — A Facilitator for Artisans

Mr.Ichikawa Masashi, a Sensho

染匠 市川昌史

Handwritten Kyo-yuzen – The Work of “Sensho”

ーNice to meet you. First, what kind of work do you do?

Nice to meet you, too. There are about 20 processes to produce handwritten kyo-yuzen. Drawing a sketch, dyeing the fabric, and so on.

At each process, there are artisans specializing in that process. In other words, kyo-yuzen is made by a lot of specialists. I am the manager to control these artisans as a whole.

When an order comes from a customer, I first work out a plan and go to a painter’s workshop to get a sketch.

After checking the sketch, I move on to the next process. Then, I would go to the next process. My job is like the succession of this kind of work.

Therefore, I go to many workshops to bring work to artisans there in the daytime. At the same time, I collect their previous work and check it. Then, I go to the next workshop.

In the afternoon, I see wholesalers to purchase productions and discuss new products. These are what “Sensho” does as their job.

We don’t draw pictures, nor dye fabrics. We leave these things on specialists and artisans.
Each artisan has his own speciality.

For example, artisan A is really good at dyeing fabrics beautifully. Artisan B, in contrast, is not as good as artisan A in regard to the quality of dyeing, but he can dye faster than A.
Considering these differences between artisans, I need to leave work on the best artisan in each situation.

ーI see. So, your job is to manage the artisans.

Our workshop makes handwritten kyo-yuzen, so we don’t use so many machines. We make about 1,000 Kyo Yuzen in one year though.

There are 4 or 5 draft painting workshops, 6 yuzen workshops, 2 gold leaf workshops, and 2 sewing workshops. These are the enough amount for now.

Nowadays, however, there are many artisans who quit their job due to aging.

ーIs the number of artisans decreasing these days?

Yes, it is. After getting old, many artisans quit their job. In fact, the payment is worse than doing part-time job.

There is the off season, too, so it is difficult to make a living only by working as an artisan.
Even if there is a son, we don’t know if he wants to take over the business with 200,000 yen of monthly payment.

As the number of artisans decreases, the number of productions we make gets smaller and smaller.


Processes of Kyo-yuzen

ーCould you tell me the process of making kyo-yuzen?

There are about 20 processes in kyo-yuzen making. The first step is to think about the design, and justify edges of silk fabric. This process is called “yunoshi.”

The next step is “sumiuchi,” making some marks on fabric in order to understand which parts will be sleeves in the end.

After doing sumi-uchi, we temporary sew the fabric. We call this process “shita-ebane.”
Then, drawing a rough sketch on the silk.Sketch painters will draw a sketch, taking our requests into account.

When they draw a sketch, they use a special liquid made from flowers which is erasable with water. Recently, people started to use chemical instead, but it was common to use flower liquid in old days.

The next step is “nori-itome.” In this step, we use frozen glue by gradually dissolving it.
This glue is made from glutinous rice and rice bran.

In fact, there are two types of glue; starch glue and rubber glue. We use different glues for different patterns. We can draw soft lines by using starch glue. Rubber glue, on the other hand, enables us to draw sharp lines.

Then, we move on to the next step called “ji-ire.” There are still some gaps between fabric and itome (glue). These gaps should be filled in. Therefore, we stretch the fabric and paste starch water on the whole surface of the. There are ji-ire artisans who specially work for ji-ire process.

After the starch water has completely dried, we add colours on it. We call the process of adding colours “doing yuzen.”

We request yuzen artisans to use specific concentrations of colours beforehand, but we don’t ask them where to colour it. We leave these decisions on their own sense.After doing yuzen, we steam it. We use a special box to steam. Steaming artisans will do this work, of course.

In this time, they use another glue, in order not to get colours into patterns. The finished product is placed in a plastic bag because it easily gets cracks when it is exposed to air.Then, this product will be dyed at a dyeing workshop. They use brushes to dye it.After dyeing, we steam it again. By doing this, colours will be steadily placed in the fabric.

However, there are some impurities inside, so we need to remove them by washing with water. In old days, we used to wash in Kamogawa River, because we didn’t use any chemicals. From Meiji era, however, we started to use chemicals, so we cannot wash in the river now. Instead of that, we make an artificial river in a factory by supplying the ground water.

Then, we do “yunoshi” again, to stretch wrinkles. Gold leaf artisans place gold leaves and embroider on the fabric.

At last, draft painters do the final work. They draw additional parts, such as the veins of a leaf, stamens and pistil of a flower. They draw white lines on the flower, and the flower will be more three-dimensional.

Well, these are the process of making kyo-yuzen.

these are the process of making kyo-yuzen.

About Distribution

ーWhat is important to increase the demand of kimono?

In these days, a lot of people think that wearing kimono is troublesome, since it is difficult to wear and needs to preserve well.

So, I think the first thing we should do is to tell people how nice wearing kimono is. We hold “kimono seminar,” an experiment class for young people to teach how to wear kimono, and “kimono de konkatsu,” marriage hunting wearing kimono. However, these activity do not quickly lead to the revitalization of our industry.

Therefore, we need to think of various ways to increase the number of kimno fans. We need to tell people about kyo-yuzen, and how we are protecting this tradition.

ーAs the final question, what do you think is needed to do in the future?

Nowadays, most of long-sleeved kimono on the market use inkjet print, and only 10% of them are made by hand.

It takes a lot of time to make handmade one, because we have to pay much attention to each process. It takes about one month to finish one kimono. We need to pay every artisan for their work. The finished products will be delivered to the customers through wholesale dealers and kimono stores. Considering these fact, the price of handmade kimono will be expensive.

Of course, it is better for customers to bring the product directly to them, but it is difficult for us to do so. However, I believe that the advantage of our company is having ability to make kimono by ourselves.

Therefore, we need to think how we can complete the distribution system on our own. In the future, we might not need to work with wholesalers anymore. So we should prepare well to start another distribution system without wholesalers.

【Artisan’s Profile】

1976. Born in Kyoto City
1999. Graduated from the School of Economics, Doshisha University
1999 Joined Itariyard Co., Ltd
2005. Started training at Miyabi Sensho Co., Ltd, as the preparation of taking over his family business
2007. Joined Sensho Ichikawa Co., Ltd
2014. Director of the company

・A member of the Youth Department of Kyoto Craftwork Sensho Cooperative Association
・A member of Kyoto Dyeing Art Association
・An adviser of Kyoto Dyeing and Weaving Council for Youth
・A member of Kimono Culture Examination Executive Committee

【about company】

Sensho Ichikawa Co., Ltd

1946. Ichikawa Kenji the First started the business by facilitating artisans
1973 Established Sensho Ichikawa Co., Ltd

【Company Information】

Ichikawa Co., Ltd

Postcode: 604-0003
Hanatachi-cho 262, Ebisugawa agaru, Koromodana-dori, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto
official website

about the writer

editing:Mana Nishino



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