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

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.

INDIAN RHINOCEROS MOTIF Lacquer, Hermès, Meissen, Dali and more

Encountering a novel creature may give a sensation and inspiration.  I met two art works in a motif of Indian Rhinoceros last month and I was wondering, “Why Rhino?”.

The first encounter was at Hermès “Leather Forever”.  Its traveling exhibition settled in Tokyo during December 2 – 23 at Tokyo National Museum, after its visits in Shanghai, Rome, Madrid, Taiwan, London and Hong Kong. There, I met a white rhinoceros called “Zouzou”, the dreamlike yet lovable, made of ostrich skin. This object was made for the Christmas windows in 1978 and has now become a sort of a mascot for the brand.

Hermes white rhino

The second chance was when I heard about the winner of 2014 International Lacquer Exhibition in Ishikawa (国際漆展・石川2014).  This exhibition openly called for a lacquer artwork from all over the world, which meets a modern sense of lifestyle. This initiated in 1989 and this time of exhibition is its 10th. 71 works were selected from 207 nominations and the grand prize went to “Rhinoceros shaped offertory box” made by Takashi Wakamiya (若宮隆志).  A bronze ware like appearance.  It has a mechanism that a neck jumps up. A two-stage offertory box is hidden inside body. The playfulness and wit captured in the piece was highly appreciated.


How the mechanism works is shown in Takashi Wakamiya’s web site in slideshow (http://www.wakamiya-takashi.com/index.html).

Leaning the history of ‘Indian rhinoceros’ is fascinating. ‘Indian rhinoceros’-unusual creature back then was imported to Europe through sea route from India in 1515. I can imagine how this unfamiliar animal excited and inspired artists. The famous “Dürer’s little horn” was made by Albrecht Dürer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dürer’s_Rhinoceros).


His magnificent fine print was frequently copied and remains as a powerful source of artistic inspiration. Indian rhinoceros motif is seen in many superb artworks in history.  “Inoceronte vestido con puntillas” created by Salvador Dali in 1956 and Meissen Rhinoceros, created by Johann Gottlieb Kirchners in 1732 are some such examples.




Meissen Rhino



2014 International Laquer Exhibition will be run until January 18 at ‘Wajima Museum of Urushi Art’ in Ishikawa prefecture. (http://www.hot-ishikawa.jp/kanko/english/20014.html)

HOTEL OKURA TOKYO Reborn and Tokyo Olympics

Hotel Okura6

A perfect blend of orange soft light and natural sun light coming through a paper sliding door (Shoji). I am writing this at the spacious main lobby of Hotel Okura Tokyo.

Here, the light gives a warm feeling. It seems whether it subtly hides the thing which you don’t wish to show, in comparison with recent modern buildings, transparent and light, and full of glass-made material used. I sometime feel intimidated and overly exposed.

Photo by Mannuel Oka

Photo by Manuel Oka  (http://manueloka.com/sets/architecture/)

Hotel Okura Tokyo, one of Japan’s most iconic hotels will be torn down from September 2015 to renovate its main building with completion by Spring 2019, one year prior to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It has been long time since I came here last time in daytime and I had an urge to come here to burn every detail of my favorite hotel into my memory.

Here you find Japan’s modern design combined with the traditional colors, patterns, shapes and materials.

Lanterns shaped in an ancient necklace motif (切子玉)

Hotel Okura1

Shoji with glass window behind a sliding bottom half and a mullion with a flax leaf pattern

Flax leaf pattern was introduced in http://takumist.wordpress.com/2014/12/09/edo-kiriko-江戸切子/


A muntin with a haze hanging over the scene (霞棚型)


Rhomboid Pattern


Hexagonal Pattern



Bird pattern

Hotel Okura Tokyo was built two years ahead of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 by the team of architects led by Yoshiro Taniguchi and an annex was added in 1973.  Kishichiro Okura, the founder of Hotel Okura believed that availability of a luxury hotel in the capital city represents a standard of the culture of the country. Hotel Okura Tokyo was built under his desire of creating a modern hotel that embraced Japan’s traditional beauty.

The main building of Hotel Okura Tokyo may be exhorted and need a reconstruction, but the timing of it prior to two Tokyo Olympics for both creation and re-creation, I can’t think of anything but destiny.

Its main building will be reborn as a 38-storey glass tower in 2019. It is said that the new building will maintain the traditional Japanese aesthetic and will be a true “Made in Japan” luxury hotel to preserve its rich history. As Kishichiro Okura had a clear vision how the first Hotel Okura Tokyo should be, new Hotel Okura Tokyo perhaps need a purpose of reconstruction beyond the economic reason.

All of my fingers are crossed and Hotel Okura Tokyo hopefully won’t be buried into many of those glass-walled high rises.

Monocle magazine has started a petition to save the old Hotel Okura Tokyo. You can participate in it from the link below. I hope they will succeed.



More information on Hotel Okura Tokyo:


EDO KIRIKO with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu きゃりーぱみゅぱみゅ

I am not sure how well-known Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is outside Japan, but she is one of very popular young singers, so-called “Idol” in Japan, with her unique style of dressing herself and Lolita like soft voice, that somewhat represents a new concept of “Kawaii” in Japan.

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

Edo Kiriko and “Futachoko” from Hirota Glass was appeared in the TV program hosted by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.

I picked up “Futachoko” in my previous blog “Edo Kiriko now and then”.  It is a product of Hirota Glass created by the collaboration with a design unit called ‘Style Y2 International‘.

This design unit is established by Arii sisters.  In the program, Arii sisters appeared and explained how they came up with the design concept of “Futachoko” and CEO of Hirota Glass shared the challenge to reach the design that can meet a production of larger quantity.  Then the artisan Kawai showed how he worked on the creation.  Let’s check it out!


THAT GLITTERS. What it takes?

Discover the secret behind the glitters of Edo Kiriko. It is all hand-made and a gift of an artisan’s refined work and devotion.