Stencil-dyed washi items born from Mingei Undo—the folk art movement

Keijusha Etchu-Yatsuo Washi Mr. Yasuki Yoshida

At the exhibition called “Keijusha’s Katazome (stencil picture dyeing) and Washi (traditional Japanese handmade paper),” colorful and unique washi goods lined up: red and yellow boxes, cushions with geometric patterns, and so on. They were extraordinary.
“Keijusha’s Katazome washi was born from the collaboration of my father and Mr. Keisuke Serizawa,” explained Mr. Yasuki Yoshida, the second-generation factory head of Keijusha.
We visited him at his studio in Keijusha in Yatsuo, Toyama City.

Inspired by Soetsu Yanagi, the father of Mingei Undo

Yatsuo washi is produced in Etchu Yatsuo. It is water-resistant. In Edo Era it was used to wrap the medicine from Etchu Toyama. Keijusha’s washi originates from Yatsuo washi, but it is wrinkle-processed and stencil-dyed. The technique used in katazome is the same as Okinawa Bingata dyeing.
Artisans place a pattern paper on washi, and apply a paste made of rice starch on the surface. Then they layer the colors according to the design. The last steps are washing and drying. The whole procedure is done by hand.
The story of katazome washi goes back to prewar days. Yasuki’s father, Keisuke, used to work for Mitsukoshi Department Store. However, he suffered from tuberculosis and returned to Yatsuo to recover.
“My father participated in papermaking workshop, while recovering. Around that time, he read Soetsu Yanagi’s ‘Beauty of Washi’, which inspired him to become a washi artisan.”

Soetsu Yanagi’s ‘Beauty of Washi’ inspired Keisuke Yoshida to become a washi artisan
Soetsu Yanagi’s ‘Beauty of Washi’ inspired Keisuke Yoshida to become a washi artisan

After a while, Keisuke met Mr. Serizawa, who was Yanagi’s friend and was also participating in the Mingei Movemnet. Mr. Serizawa was looking for water-resistant washi, since he intended to produce washi products by using Bingata technique. So, he talked to Keisuke. Thereafter, Mr. Serizawa developed the stencil-picture-dyeing technique for washi. He designed stencil-dyed calendars and started producing them in 1946.
Yasuki says, “Since Mr. Serizawa needed my father’s help in order to produce more, he taught the technique to my father.”
The technique was called Kataezome. In 1956 it was designated as an Intangible Important Cultural Property, and Mr. Serizawa was recognized as a Living National Treasure.
As for Keisuke, he had run Etchu Washi Company since 1946. Then, in 1960 he established Keijusha, a katazome washi company. Though washi industry was in decline, he actively promoted katazome washi and its unique technique.

Continue to make washi goods for everyday life

“Etchu Washi Company was leading in washi shikishi (square fancy cardboards), and Keijusha was leading in washi goods. In the beginning, they made billfolds, and then, in 1969 they started producing cushions. They also made kimono sashes, yukata (light kimono), vests, and so on, though they were not on high demand at the time. We still reprint Mr. Serizawa’s calendars.” Yasuki talks fondly of the history of washi products.
After graduating from university, he studied at Serizawa Dyeing Research Institute, and went back to Yatsuo in 1978.
“I thought I could make a living if I succeed my father’s business, but it wasn’t that easy,” says Yasuki with a wry smile. Nevertheless, he has managed Keijusha with 20 employees for so many years.
He says, “Every day I put my efforts in improving the quality of the washi products.”
The popular items are business-card cases, book covers, notebooks, boxes, and so on.

In the end of the interview, we asked him about washi’s future.
“I think it will survive. However, since washi isn’t a material needed in Japanese people’s everyday life anymore, we must think how they can make use of it. We collaborate with designers to produce nice household items made of washi, such as cushion covers, wallpaper, and washi lights.”
Mingei Undo shined a light on household items. Its spirit is still alive in Etchu Yatsuo’s katazome washi.

Yasuki Yoshida

Yasuki Yoshida

Born in Toyama Prefecture in 1953. He studied katazome technique under Mr. Keisuke Serizawa, after graduating from university. Since 1978 he has dedicated himself to his family business. Etchu Washi Company and Keijusha were merged in 2003. He works as the company director of Keijusha Ltd.
He also runs Keijusha Washibunko which has a shop and a tea room. The paper household items made in Japan and overseas are exhibited in Washibunko. In order to make more people aware of Etchu Yatsuo washi, he offers papermaking classes.

Keijusha Washibunko

  • 668-4 Kagamimachi, Yatsuomachi, Toyamashi, Toyama, 939-2341 Japan
  • Open
    10:00 – 17:00 (Last admission: 16:30)
  • Closed:
  • Monday; September 5th and 6th; December 29th to January 10th
  • Papermaking Workshop:
  • Reservations required at least 2 days before; Open 9:00 – 12:00, 13:00 – 16:00; Closed Saturday, Sunday, national holidays, September 1st to 3rd;Obon Festival and New Year Holidays
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