Meeting with Ise-Katagami Artisan Isao Uchida (内田 勲)part 2


About 4 months ago, I visited Ise-Katagami artisan Isao Uchida in Shiroko and wrote about it here.  Today, there was a workshop with him in Tokyo and I had an another chance to hear his story. Artisan Uchida

The topic flew from his apprenticeship period to the rise and fall of katagami industry.

At the peak period during 1970-1975, he had orders of katagami (paper stencil) production as much as he couldn’t have enough time to sleep. Order mainly came from Kyoto, where had a demand for semi-formal kimonos for women.



For making one kimono, some dozens to hundreds of katagami are required. There was a middleman between a dyer and a katagami artisan and the final design and colors were not often fully shared, therefore, engraving the stencil by imagining how the colors and design patterns are combined was really a complex work. Good katagami artisan needs to be clever enough. The peak period was over after 5,6 years when Nylon made stencil took it over. Artisan Uchida will be 71 years old this year and he still feels he is inferior. Most of his junior left the business due to the fall in the industry.  He is one of the youngest among 20 some existing katagami artisans.


There are katagami, which even an accomplished artisan as Uchida highly appreciates. Such katagami has its hold on life. The drawn flowers and leafs are vivid and have vigor.

The patterns on katagami are so refined and tiny. It may be difficult to find such a difference in detail for an ordinary person.

In Japan, there is a saying, “what an artisan earns by day he spends by night”.  It is because an artisan becomes lazy and stop working once he earns enough money. If he stops working, he loses his touch. Therefore, he shouldn’t keep his earnings and continue to work to keep up his skills.


First step of making katagami is to develop ‘shouhon (小本)’, which is about the size of 12cmx12cm square.  Katagami patterns are repetition of this square. Artisan Uchida says that once he develops shouhon, a half of his work is over.

Until recently, the order of katagami development came from a middleman, therefore, it was often the case that a katagami artisan has never seen the final product-the dyed kimono with his katagami. But today, artisan Uchida tries to directly work with a dyer.

He created “Gonin-gumi (composed of 5 persons)” with other katagami artisans and dyers and develop kimono textiles together. I found this an interesting movement as producing kimono textiles used to be a role of kimono wholesale dealers and they were the one who took the most part of margins from the sales. Now they do not involve such dealers.

This initiative came from a compelling succession issue. There is no sufficient demand for katagami production as much as an artisan can live only relying on this.

When Artisan Uchida was still in his apprentice, his master earned good money as a katagami artisan. Artisan Uchida naturally desired to be like his master and it was his key motivation to eagerly learn and be the skillful artisan. But now, he can’t propose such a attractive vision to his apprentices, therefore, they do not put their effort to master skills.  If the current situation continues, the techniques of katagami artisan will definitely disappear soon. Artisan Uchida wants to present a new way of living as a katagami artisan through ‘Gonin-gumi”s initiative.

I recalled his words from my last visit to Shiroko.

“The technique, which has endured for about 1000 years, is about to run its course during our era. What we are charged to do is to cultivate our successors.”

More young Japanese has been showing interests in kimono, but the little increase won’t be able to cultivate enough demands to sustain the katagami industry.  The market is globe. Perhaps, foreign blood could discover completely new purposes of using the paper stencils skills and find a way to survive? My wishful thinking….


stripe patterns

KATAGAMI Exhibition at Dresden Museum until February 22, 2015


The Kunstgewerbemuseum at Schloss Pillnitz rediscovered vast archive of Japanese kimono katagami in their storage. 92 cases containing more than 15,000 katagami for textile printing, had been undisturbed and kept neatly for 125 years. During this long period, it has never been displayed and remained unknown beyond the confines of the museum’s collection.

This is the largest collection of katagami in the world. Apart from Dresden, ‎1,500 katagami is stored in Musée des Arts décoratifs in Paris, 4,000 katagami in V&A Museum in London, 10,000 katagami in Kunstkammer in Vienna.

Katagaim at Dresden Museum

via Dresden Museum

For the first time ever, a selection of 140 of refined work of katagami has been exhibited together with historic kimono in the Elbe Wing in Dresden Museum (Staatliche Kunstammlugen Dresden) in Germany.

Dresden museum katagami exhibition

via Dresden Museum

The exhibition “Logical Rain” will be run until February 22, 2015.  If you happen to be in Germany, this could be an interesting exhibition to visit.

KATAGAMI: Japonisme and its influence to Art Nouveau

The richness of the patterns and its intricate loveliness of katagami, captivated artists in Europe.  The katagami handicraft had a signficant influence on Western Art scene.

Ise-Katagami craftmanship

The first time that katagami got an attention was in London in 1891, when a Japanese art lover who just returned from a trip to Japan introduced the method of Japanese katagami and stencil dying (型染め) using katagami at the conference about Japan. After Japan opened the country, many of old katagami was exported to Western Europe through world expositions and by tourists returning from Japan and their motifs had a great impact on craft designs and decorative art.

Koloman Moser,  William Morris, Henri van de Velde,  Emile GalleRene Lalique……. Decoration designers in Europe were looking for new inspirations for their work. Katagami influenced designers to trigger the movement of Art Nouveau.

Katagami, which looks plain from distance, but when one comes closer, the delicate and intricate decorations can be observed with astonishment. This idea was used in numerous posters, jewelry, textiles, books, furniture, metalwork, and other objects.

Below shows a handful example from Art Nouveau design.

Philippe Wolfers

vase orchidée

Felix Vallotton

Félix Vallotton, Idleness

Rene Lalique


Lalique cherry blossom colm


Hoffmann Chair

William Morris

William Morris

KATAGAMI: 2014 “REVALUE NIPPON PROJECT” hosted by Hidetoshi Nakata

Nakata at Charity Gala 2014

Via Take Action Foundation

I shouldn’t forget mentioning about Hidetoshi Nakata’s charity gala called “REVALUE NIPPON PROJECT CHARITY GALA”.  Katagami (Japanese paper stencil) was selected as a theme for this charity. Hidetoshi Nakata is a well-known former Japanese footballer, who played in the Italian Serie A and in the English Premier League. After the retirement, he has been an active supporter of Japanese traditional culture and craftsmanship. He is Chairman of the board of directors of ‘Take Action foundation’ and “REVALUE NIPPON PROJECT” is one of the core activities of this foundation. Hidetoshi Nakata has been hosting a charity gala every year, which aims to promote the development of Japanese traditional culture and craftsmanship. The theme for 2014 charity was ‘Katagami’. The gala was held at Grand Hyatt Fukuoka on July 19, 2014 by having Gucci as a main sponsor. For the charity auction, 5 teams consisting of artists, designers and experts from different communities were formed and they created some 10 special ‘one and only’ kind of pieces, which brought out the charm and potential of Katagami. Gucci’s ‘Lady Lock’ bag was also exhibited in the auction. This bag  is designed with the brand’s trademark double-G logo lacquered on deer leather by using katagami. The auction gained 23.45 million yen in total and it was donated for the following activities of REVALUE NIPPON PROJECT.

Hand-dyed coat – Artisan Uchida created the katagami






Gucci’s ‘Lady Lock’ bag

Gucci lady lock bag

Although this may be a small step for Katagami to get an attention from new segment of audience, I appreciate the initiative to provide katagami high visibility.

Thanks, Hidetoshi Nakata!

Meeting with Ise-Katagami Artisan Isao Uchida (内田 勲)

Artisan Uchida In a raining day in the middle of December, I visited Artisan Isao Uchida, at Shiroko (白子), where is a heart of Ise-Katagami production and 40 mins away from Nagoya by train. He is a leading Ise-Katagami sculptor of the day,

The atelier of Artisan Uchida is situated at the corner of his house. Cozy tatami-mat room. Sitting on a floor cushion by facing a low table. He was working on his last piece before ending year 2014.

The room was filled with his long-time relationship with Ise-Katagami. The bookcases couldn’t hold all books on Katagami patterns, so some of them was stacked on the floor. Loads of ‘tried-and-true’ knives and tools. A large copy machine……..

The room seems expressing his pride as an artisan and his devotion to Ise-Katagami.



When I think of an artisan, I always imagine a difficult person with sullen looks. I was a little nervous and was wondering how I could start our conversation when I met him, but I realized that I was over-anxious soon after I met him. He was actually a very cheerful person and was eager to speak about Ise-Katagami. I was simply interested in the richness of patterns and countless number of geometric designs, therefore, my main purpose of the visit was to look at as many katagami patterns as possible. However, it didn’t take too long to become fascinated by the craftsmanship and an artistic value of Ise-Katagami itself. His work using ‘tsukibori technique’ is so delicate and creates elegant curves that capitalize on sensitivity. Persimmon tanned paper has a particular smoky scent that made me feel nostalgic. Artisan Uchida told me that it takes 20 days for completing a paper stencil of a little larger than A3 size, therefore, he can’t make any mistake before its completion and he normally doesn’t.

Paper stencil

Artisan Uchida began studying katagami in 1965. Being an independent artisan, it has an apprentice system of about 6 years. An apprentice learns techniques from master and improve skills sufficient to be independent by taking 3-4 years, and then spends another 2-3 years for serving himself for master’s business for return before his apprenticeship expires. In the Japanese apprentice system, a master normally doesn’t teach techniques, therefore, an apprentice needs to ‘steal’ the techniques by carefully watching the master’s work and practicing himself.

“The technique, which has endured for about 1000 years, is about to run its course during our era. What we are charged to do is to cultivate our successors.”


Katagami artisans are aging. Artisan Uchida is now 70 years old. There are just 20 Katagami artisans in Japan and only 2 or 3 of them are in their 60s, and the youngest. Stencil production has been getting more and more replaced by computer graphics.  Katagami industry is having a significant problem to attract successors. Although all artisans invested time and energy to learn the techniques to become a professional by taking the severe apprentice system, Artisan Uchida said that he doesn’t mind giving every possible help to an apprentice in learning techniques side by side, if he can receive such an apprentice. Artisan Uchida doesn’t sit and wait for an opportunity to promote Ise-Katagami. He often travels all over Japan and sometimes even to abroad to demonstrate and teach the Katagami creation technique as many people as possible. There are also some regular pupils who are amateur but enjoy learning techniques from him.

Candle holders with Katagami

Photo by NONOKA

Stencil itself can be replaced by a new technology, but great devotion of the time, pride and perfection that an artisan put into the work isn’t replaceable. Katagami captures the heritage of 1000 years that people inherited carefully….. and all these are the value of craftsmanship. “Can Katagami survive?”   I left Shiroko by being puzzled but determined to get one katagami for my place in new year.

Artisan Isao Uchida 

Artisan Uchida is a member of the society of the Nationally-designated Important Intangible Cultural Property. He received the Minister of Economy Trade and Industry Minister Award to Recognize Contributions to Traditional Craft Industries in 2013.

KATAGAMI Inspired Interior Design

Katagami‘ is originally a tool that is used in the process of dyeing textile, however, today, Katagami itself is seen as a source of artistic inspiration by many artists and designers, from its charm and artistry.

I am pleased to see some examples that Katagami is adopted as an essential element of interior design by some of respectable interior designers such as Steven Gambrel and Eric Cohler.

At the bottom, the sofa in front of the Katagami hanging wall is called “Katagami” collection of Lauren Stern.

Isn’t it cool?

Steven Gambrel

steven-gambrel-seaside-9 Steve Gambrel Katagami

Eric Cohler 

eric cohler Katagami

Lauren Stern

Sofa from her “Katagami” collection.

lauren Stern Katagami

伊勢型紙 ISE-KATAGAMI (Paper Stencil)


Katagami (paper stencil) is a tool used for the stencil printing of kimono and accessories such as Kyo-Yuzen and Edo-Komon. As the most of Katagami comes from Ise region, about 470 km away from Tokyo, it has been called Ise-Katagami.

Ise-Katagami is made manually by carving patterns on Ise-Katagami Papersthe multiple layers of thin Japanese paper pasted together with persimmon tannin. Glue extracted from persimmon makes bonded paper strong. Paper is colored in brown and gets a slightly smoky odor. Persimmon tannin also has a benefit of  makin the surface of Japanese paper flexible and smooth that makes cutting easier. Several sizes of thin knives are used as a tool for carving.




Ise-Katagami craftmanship


We can’t identify the origin of Ise-Katagami now, however, it is said that the production of Ise-Katagami began in later Muromachi era (16th century).  During Edo era (17-18th century), the skills and patterns made a quantum leap, helped by development of kimono culture among people. The number of patterns are countless.

Edo komon

Life style of Japanese has changed and Kimono is no more our common style of costume. The emergence of advanced technologies, such as digital painting and computer graphics have also threatened the meaning of its existence even more. The katagami industry is facing serious issues of a decline in demand as well as the aging craftsmen without having successors. Ise-Katagami is primarily a tool in the process of dyeing kimono and other cloth, therefore, it hasn’t attracted a great deal of attention. However, artistry and the charm of Ise-Katagami beyond its traditional use has been getting discovered by some artists and an innovative use of Ise-Katagami for furniture and interior goods has been already initiated. Such initiatives  somewhat indicate the potential in Ise-Katagami to create new value and hopefully increase demand. However, the future of Ise-Katagami doesn’t look rosy at all.

Ise-Katagami window

You can find the demonstration of traditional techniques for Ise-Katagami and resist-dyeing silk (Katazome) by Master craftsmen from Japan at Cooper Hewitt Design Centre in March 2013.