Ise-katagami is indispensable to the dyeing culture | Traditional Japanese crafts in Mie prefecture

Source: Shima Kanko Hotel

Ise-katagami, traditional Japanese craft, has artistic outlook 

Ise katagami is a dyeing stencil made in
the Shirako, Teraya, and Ejima districts of Suzuka City, Mie Prefecture. Even
today, 99% of the katagami distributed in Japan is made in the Shirako district
of Suzuka City. Katagami is used to dye kimono fabric with patterns and designs
such as yuzen, yukata, and komon, and is a traditional craft (tool) with a
history of over 1,000 years. It is an indispensable tool for dyeing and is an
important Japanese asset that has supported Japan’s traditional kimono culture
and other dyeing cultures.

Ise- Katagami
source: Otona Mie

Techniques and Patterns

Ise-katagami is produced by the hands of
trained craftsmen. The design is carved into the base paper with an engraving
knife. There are four major engraving techniques, and different knives are used
for each technique. Let’s take a look at the characteristics of each.

Striped carving

A technique for carving stripes. It is also
called Hikibori. The stripes are carved evenly using a ruler and an engraving
blade. At first glance, it may seem like a simple task, but it is impossible to
carve out a single stripe without precise technique, because it is necessary to
trace the same spot three times in succession with a small blade to carve a
single stripe. The finest carving can have as many as 11 stripes in a 1 cm
width (called “Kyokubori”), and requires a skilled craftsman’s


A technique in which four sides of five to
eight layers of patterned base paper are held together with a twisted trowel,
and the blade tip is thrust vertically from the front to the other side to
carve. This technique is said to be particularly suited to pictorial patterns.
The carved edges sway slightly, giving the carving a unique warm texture.

Tool carving

A technique of carving out patterns using
an engraving blade with a blade edge in the shape of a flower, fan, or water
chestnut. This technique begins with the making of the tools, and the quality
of the tools greatly affects the work. It is characterized by the uniformity of
the pattern and the versatility of expression through a combination of shapes.
This technique is often used in Edo komon, and is also commonly called


A technique in which an engraving knife
with a semicircular blade is placed on a patterned paper and rotated to create
a pattern by engraving numerous small holes. There are several types of
chrysanthemum carving, such as Shark pattern, Gyogi pattern, Through pattern,
and Arare pattern. 100 holes are carved in one square centimeter, and it is
considered a difficult technique because the size and spacing of the holes must
be consistent for a monotonous pattern to be successful.

In addition to these four carving
techniques, there are other important processes that support katagami making.

 Ito-in (thread insertion)

When a pattern has many long, thin stripes
or areas carved out by tsukibori (carving with stripes), if the pattern is left
as it is, the pattern may shift when the paper is dyed. For this reason, a
thread is pasted between two pieces of patterned paper with persimmon tannin,
and the pattern is fixed in place by laminating the patterned paper as it was.
This is called “ito-iri. Failure to do so will cause the pattern to shift
and render the paper pattern unusable, so it is said to be a process that requires
skillful technique and concentration.

Ise - Katagami
Source: Mie Prefecture

History of Ise-katagami

The origin of Ise-katagami with a history
of 1,000 years

The history of katagami is long, and it is
said that the katagami industry was already advanced in Suzuka City, Mie
Prefecture, 1,000 years ago, during the Heian and Muromachi periods. There are
various legends and stories about the origin of katagami, such as the legend
that it was started by a man named Magoshichi in the Nara period (710-794), the
legend that a monk of the Koyasu Kannon Shrine came up with the idea of
katagami after seeing insect-eaten leaves, the legend that there were kata
sellers in the Heian period, and the legend that kata carvers who escaped from
Kyoto during the Onin War introduced kata carving techniques. There are various
legends and legends, but there is no specific theory that has yet been
clarified. Originally, there was neither Japanese paper nor stencil dyeing in
this area, so many theories consider the connection with other areas, such as
the connection with Kyoto or the introduction from Kishu.

The prosperity of Ise katagami in the Edo

Since 1619, the production of katagami in
Shirako has been under the protection of the Kishu Tokugawa clan, and its name
has become well known throughout the country as a production center. At that
time, katazome was used for samurai kamishimo (samurai formal wear), and the
demand for fine komon patterns seems to have encouraged katagami making
techniques and popularity. The katagami industry developed as an industry through
the collaboration of katagami carvers and dyeing artisans from various regions.
The katagami makers organized themselves as stockbrokers and sold katagami
throughout the country under the protection of the Kishu clan, and Ise katagami
spread throughout the country.

Repeating ups and downs

After the Meiji Restoration, the
stockbrokers organized in the Edo period were dissolved. Thereafter, a period
of repeated prosperity and decline began as clothing styles changed with the
trend toward modernization. In 1955, six craftsmen were recognized as holders
of the “Ise-katagami” technique, an important intangible cultural
asset, and in 1983, the technique was designated as a national traditional
handicraft (tool). At one time there were nearly 300 craftsmen, but today there
are only about 20.

Ise-katagami today

As the demand for kimono has decreased due
to the trend away from western-style clothing, the Society for the Preservation
of Isekatagami was established to pass on the technique to future generations.
New approaches to the use of Ise-katagami have emerged, such as turning
Ise-katagami itself, which is usually unseen by the general public, into
products such as lighting fixtures, architectural fittings, and jewelry.

Production Process

1. Hozukuri

Dyed stencil paper requires paper with
strong properties that will not expand or contract. This is called katajigami,
and the process of Isekatagami begins with katajigami making. 
First, 200 to 500 sheets of Mino Washi are
stacked and cut according to the standard dimensions.

2. Paper attaching

Since Japanese paper has the property of
being strong in the horizontal direction and weak in the vertical direction,
three sheets of Japanese paper are alternately pasted together to form a strong
paper. The process of “kamitsuke” involves laminating three sheets of
washi together vertically, horizontally, and vertically using kakishibu
(persimmon tannin). The use of kakishibu (persimmon tannin) makes the washi

3. Drying

After the papering process is completed,
the paper is left to dry for one or two days to increase the adhesive strength
of the kakishibu. The paper is then affixed to a cypress board and hung in the
sun to dry.

4. Murogarashi

Next, the dried paper is placed in a smoke
chamber with an indoor temperature of approximately 40°C. The paper is then
dried in a room with cedar sawdust for one week. The persimmon tannin between
the fibers of the washi hardens as it is smoked with cedar sawdust for about a
week, and the paper is transformed into a paper that is strong and resistant to
expansion and contraction.

5. Completion of katajigami

The paper is then soaked in persimmon
tannin again and dried in the sun. The surface of the paper is again dried in
the “murogarashi” (room-drying) process to inspect the surface. After
the murogarashi process, the paper becomes dark brown “katajigami”
(patterned paper). This process takes about 45 days, and the paper must be left
for about one to two years before it is actually used for kata carving.

6. Engraving

The katagami is engraved based on a pattern
drawn by a pattern-maker at the request of a dyer. There are four types of
engraving techniques: shimabori, tsukibori, tool carving, and kiribori.
Depending on the order, we use each of these four techniques to carve. 7.

7. shabari and ito inlay

This is also the technique explained above.
The carved paper pattern is sometimes reinforced depending on the carving
method in order to dye it. Shabari” is a method of reinforcing by applying
a fine silk thread gauze with lacquer. Ito-iri” is a method of reinforcing
fine stripes by inserting silk threads between two sheets of paper to prevent
them from being torn off. Currently, ito iri is only used for
“shimabori” shaped paper. This work requires a high level of concentration,
as even the slightest deviation is not allowed. The katagami made in this way
are sent to a dyeing shop and used to dye kimonos.

Source: INDEN-YA
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