亜空間として形成する伊勢型紙・江戸小紋の世界 長坂常(建築家)× 廣瀬雄一(江戸小紋職人)EYE OF GYRE 2018.07.17(TUE)-08.26(SUN)

Hirose Dye-Works has been passing down the traditions of Edo Komon for a hundred years, ensuring that this superb kimono fabric continues to be available today. To mark the firm’s centennial, fourth-generation master craftsman Yuichi Hirose presents his first collaboration with architect Jo Nagasaka. In addition to pushing to the limit the traditional skills that are the pride of Hirose Dye-Works, this project involved Hirose experimenting with new ideas that emerged from the application of Nagasaka’s distinctive perspectives. The exhibition reveals some of the results of that collaboration, and hints at further new potential in the traditional craft of Edo Komon dyeing. When Hirose and Nagasaka worked together to produce a kimono  Hirose and Nagasaka worked together to produce a kimono that deviated substantially from the tradition of the prestigious samekomon pattern, the result was excruciatingly beautiful. Fortuitously-emerging patterns seemed to combine with unanticipated variations to produce a representation of unbounded space. This exhibition is an opportunity to enjoy the delight of Edo Komon and to discover the unexpected and unmeasurable breadth that accompanies the fineness of its techniques.

Interview of

Jo Nagasaka (architect) and
Yuichi Hirose (Edo Komon craftsman)

Beyond the Taboos
of Tradition

Each bolt of Edo Komon fabric is hand-dyed using Ise katagami stencils in a series of extremely delicate manual processes. Jo Nagasaka, deeply respectful of Yuichi Hirose’s unmatched sense of aesthetics and encouraged by his natural playfulness, persuaded Hirose to take part in an attempt to break the taboos of Edo Komon craftspeople and take advantage of what are traditionally considered to be errors. Nagasaka’s aim was try innovative approaches that apply the wisdom embodied in the traditional craft. This interview was conducted soon after the results of their experiments emerged. Their conversation seems to carry the sweet smell of success.

Photography: Kazumasa Harada
Interview & Editing: Yasuyuki Takase,
Naoe Hanamido (EATer)

A traditional craft's DNA
is in its intrinsic characteristics.

The origins of Edo Komon are in the Muromachi Period, when some of the patterns created on samurai armor were applied to dyeing other garments. Entering the Edo Period, daimyo and other samurai adopted a variety of stenciled motifs for kamishimo formal wear. This eventually led to widespread popularity of such stenciled patterns in the fashions of Mid-Edo Period townspeople.

Edo Komon is a traditional craft with a long history. What did you find attractive about it?

Traditional crafts survive as a result of incredible effort put into ensuring differentiation, as a result of achieving recognition for the rigorously-maintained characteristics of their techniques, and as a result of those techniques being carefully passed down over the years. Edo Komon looks like plain colored fabric from a distance, but when you see it from close up, you realize that it has been dyed with extremely fine patterns. This characteristic derives from a reaction to the Edo government’s ban on extravagant outfits. In retrospect, the luxury inherent in such painstakingly hand-dyed fabrics made nonsense of the regulations. These fabrics cannot be rationally justified, but they fit in with Japanese tastes. I find that history fascinating. Even the geographical factors—taking washi paper produced in Mino to Ise, where it is used to create stencils, and them transporting them all the way to Edo—entail an inordinate amount of work. The pride associated with monozukuri, the skilled creation of something with unique characteristics, would not be the same if the product were easily achievable. That’s another factor that interested me about Edo Komon.

The traditional manufacturing techniques that we have inherited and the processes that we preserve are special. Participating in this project gave us an excellent opportunity to take a fresh look and re-discover just how special they are. Jo provided an objective perspective. His comments as we were working toward the exhibition opened my eyes to all sorts of things.

No matter how beautiful or good-looking something is, that alone is not enough to capture my interest. Unless I can see how something came into being and make connections in my own mind, I find it difficult to appreciate how it differs from everything else. That’s probably why I felt so attracted to Edo Komon: it’s a kogei craft with a special historical background.

The manufacturing techniques of mainstream Edo Komon have been passed down in an unbroken line, but for this exhibition you introduced new approaches. What sort of innovative approaches were needed?

Any traditional craft with a significant history needs to have some sort of viable commercial proposition in order to ensure its connection to today’s world, and Edo Komon is no exception. How to link it to such commercial opportunities is a significant question, and the solution is not simple. What we attempted to do for this exhibition was to explore how we could retain Edo Komon’s intrinsic characteristics—the aspects of this traditional craft that function as its DNA. Extracting everything that is good about Edo Komon would not have been feasible, so I worked with Yuichi to assess which parts of the manufacturing process could be passed on to the future, and to put them into some sort of concrete form. That involved segmenting the manufacturing process and subdividing according to value and meaning. Things became a good deal clearer when we followed that approach.

Taking a fresh look at each process
led to new discoveries.

You talked about taking advantage of errors, and that seems to have been the key to fabricating the exhibits presented in for the exhibition. For instance, Ise katagami stencils sometimes tear or have part of the pattern blocked  Ise katagami stencils sometimes tear or have part of the pattern blocked , and you tried using the stencils in that imperfect state. Another example is that instead of the smooth time-worn boards that the fabric is placed on for stenciling or for dyeing the base color, you tried using aluminum panels with punched perforations  aluminum panels with punched perforations, or wooden panels with a textured surface produced by bringing the grain into relief.  wooden panels with a textured surface produced by bringing the grain into relief. You even tried using two colors of dye paste instead of just one for the base color in order to produce a marbled effect  produce a marbled effect, and experimented with modifying the steaming process to deliberately make the colors uneven. In each of these processes you were doing something that would be considered taboo in the traditional manufacturing sequence for Edo Komon. How did you come about the ideas for these sorts of methods?

We started with Yuichi describing each of the processes to me, telling me about actual cases where errors occur, and explaining what would be taboo. I used that information as the basis for thinking about what we could try. Every skilled manufacturing process includes points that are particularly interesting, so my first step was to review those points one by one.

At the dye-works, all our attention is on the final product, so we virtually never give any thought to exploring alternative potential in the intermediate processes. The fact that we can create new possibilities by experimenting with changes to the way that we perform some of those processes is the big discovery resulting from this project.

Using panels with punched holes or raised-grain surfaces for the stenciling process put a surprising amount of stress on the katagami, and the process could take several times longer than expected...

Yes, that’s right. I really enjoyed the experiments, so that wasn’t a problem for me, but some of the other craftspeople would find it quite a challenge. One thing I learned from these unexpected effects was how inflexible I was becoming. It reminded me that not everything can be allowed to continue without change.

Yuichi was amazingly good at understanding what I wanted and giving it a try. On my side, everyone had been anxious about whether it would be OK to ask traditional craftspeople to play around like that. Nevertheless, I was convinced that this was the only approach that would work, and when I actually brought it up, it was great to receive all sorts of suggestions in response. Yuichi’s imagination took in what we were trying to do and went even further. That made things go ever so well.


Yes, your understanding made things go really well. As architects, we work with craftspeople like carpenters and builders, and discussions don’t go smoothly unless we share an image of where the project is going. For this project, we were probably asking Yuichi to do things that would be unthinkable during the normal course of his work. But I could sense that even though we were not following the normal path, he was still trying to produce a beautiful result, however unconventional. There are areas where my team can’t do anything, so we have to rely on the abilities of experts. At times like that, it’s very reassuring to be working with someone who takes an active part like Yuichi did. Not every craftsperson is able to do that. On the contrary, people who have some resistance to doing things in a different way from usual are probably in the majority. The exhibits we produced were only achievable because it was Yuichi who we were working with.

Thanks for the compliment. Now that we have the results of our experiments in final form, I’m very keen to see how the people who come to the exhibition evaluate them. Creating them has reinforced my long-held intuition that if we ourselves close the door to innovation, nothing will ever change. I’m thrilled to have been able to put on this exhibition.

It’s difficult to get conclusive answers from this one-off project, but I very much hope that it will function as an inspiration. Ideally, people seeing the exhibition will react in ways that we did not anticipate, and make suggestions about new directions to pursue, opening the way to the next development or inspiration.

The future lies in ensuring relevance
to the real lives of people today.

The exhibits include Jo Nagasaka’s Pixel Table and Pixel Chair  Pixel Table and Pixel Chair furniture. Is it reasonable to describe them as furniture that uses pixels, the smallest units of digital images, in a similar manner to the fine patterns of Edo Komon?

The furniture uses finely detailed patterns that employ cyan, magenta, and yellow colors  finely detailed patterns that employ cyan, magenta, and yellow colors, but the appearance changes depending on how the colors are ordered. Moreover, the results look like uniform planes of color from far away, but as you come closer, you can see that instead of being just one color, they consist of large numbers of overlapping spots of different colors. The aim of this furniture is to demonstrate a way of picking up one of the DNA-like characteristics that live on in Edo Komon, It’s interesting to see what you can create by working with even just one of the characteristics that have been passed down over the years. It’s an example of one of the new approaches that can emerge when you break down the manufacturing processes and analyze the value of the traditional product.

This is an example of temporarily changing your point of view, or returning to an earlier point of view. It’s similar to the way that athletes in competitive sports need to keep experimenting by changing the way that they train. Consciously trying new approaches is vital.

It may be similar to the process of self-reflection from a birds-eye view. You know that there are rules that prevent something being recognized as a traditional craft unless it meets certain strict conditions. But if you remain bound by those rules and conditions, the path into the future inevitably gets narrower and narrower. I personally believe if that you truly want to retain something—not just for the next 15 years, but for the next hundred years or even further into the future—then instead of attempting to raise its value by freezing it in time, it is surely more important to think about how to ensure relevance to the real lives of people today. I am convinced that changing perspective from time to time will play an increasingly important role in ensuring the long-term survival of Edo Komon and other traditional crafts,

Based on your experiences of creating works for this exhibition, what new possibilities do you think have emerged for the traditional craft of Edo Komon?

It would of course be easy to convert fine patterns like the komon patterns into data and make them printable. That would give instant access to the patterns. However, when you look at hand-made crafts like the Edo Komon produced by Yuichi, the results are worlds apart. If you think about what sort of modifications could be made to this process or that process in order to explore and experiment with methods that have not been tried before, the finished product can turn out to be very different from anything you anticipated. And when a product has been made specially for you, the manufacturing processes used by the craftspeople hold a special interest, and the product becomes something that you treasure and use for a long time. If this exhibition results in more people discovering the fascination of the manufacturing skills behind Edo Komon, and leads to more innovation and the creation of custom-made products, we have an interesting future ahead of us. And that, of course, is the essential delight of hand-made products.

I would be delighted if someone decided they would like to turn one these fabrics into a kimono and actually wear it. The approach we used here is not restricted to dyed products like Edo Komon. It could potentially be applied to other textiles and similar products, too. And because we are using processes that differ from the conventional equivalents, we can propose new ways to enjoy traditional crafts. This is an exciting moment, and I sense that the new approach will keep us going in the future.

Jo Nagasaka

Architect. Born in 1971. On graduating from Tokyo University of the Arts in 1998, established his own studio, later to become Schemata Architects, of which he is still Principal. Established the shared creative office HAPPA in 2007, including gallery and shop spaces. In 2015, set up a dedicated office in the Aoyama area of Tokyo. Nagasaka has extensive experience in the architectural design of shops and private homes, direction of interior design and display design, and in designing furniture. His designs are notable for providing solutions that create new value through harmonization with the actual surroundings. Recent work includes store designs for Blue Bottle Coffee in Japan and internationally. Publications include When B-side becomes A-side (enlarged edition, Kajima Institute), Jo Nagasaka: On My Mind (No.23 in the Contemporary Architecture Concept Series, LIXIL Publishing, and Jo Nagasaka / Schemata Architects (history and portfolio, Frame Publishers).

Yuichi Hirose

Dyeing craftsman. Born in 1978. Began windsurfing at age 10, received intensive training as a potential competitor for the Sydney Olympics, and competed worldwide. After graduating from university, in 2002 he took over his family business, becoming the fourth-generation master dyer of Hirose Dye-Works, a business established in 1918 that specializes in producing hand-dyed Edo Komon kimono fabric using hand-cut stencils. Keen to ensure that domestic and international audiences learn about this traditional craft, he works to promote the culture and the attraction of Edo Komon and the techniques required in its production. In 2012, he created and launched "comment?”—a new brand featuring stoles that enable Edo Komon fabrics to be worn in more casual settings. The products of the new brand are presented at shows in Paris and other locations.

Hirose Dye-Works Centennial:
Envisaging an Ise Katagami
and Edo Komon Subspace

Period: 2018.7.17(Tue) - 2018.8.26(Sun) / 11:00 - 20:00 / Open every day

Organizer: GYRE

Curation: Yoshiko Ikoma (fashion journalist)

Supervision: Takayo Iida (Director, Sgùrr Dearg Institute for Sociology of the Arts)

Graphic design: Rikako Nagashima (village®)

Production cooperation: Hirose Dye-Works

Venue setup: TANK

Pixel Furniture fabrication: neufurniture works

Kimono display stand fabrication: super robot

Support: HiRAO INC

Contact: GYRE(03-3498-6990)


Talk Event — Jo Nagasaka and Yuichi Hirose

Date/Time: 2018.7.20(Thu) / 19:00 - 20:00
Moderator: Yoshiko Ikoma

Mekuso-zame (clogged samekomon), a collaboration between Nagasaka and Hirose.

Ise Katagami with samekomon design partly clogged, used for Mekuso-zame. (detail)

Jiirozome—adding the base-color to fabric that has taken on an extra pattern from the punched aluminum panel during stenciling.

Katazome—stenciling on a textured board instead of a smooth board. The wooden board has its grain raised by an uzukuri process.

Marbling is created by using two different colors of dye.

Nagasaka’s Pixel Chair (left) and Pixel Table Low (right).

Nagasaka’s Pixel Chair (left) and Pixel Table Low (right).

  • Architect Jo Nagasaka (left) and dyer Yuichi Hirose (right).
  • Materials produced as prototypes for Nagasaka’s furniture pieces.
  • Ise Katagami with samekomon design partly clogged, used for Mekuso-zame. (detail)
  • Ise Katagami with samekomon design partly clogged, used for Mekuso-zame.
  • Marbling with dyes of two different colors, black and silver gray.
  • Jiirozome—adding the base-color to fabric that has taken on an extra pattern from the punched aluminum panel during stenciling.
  • Jiirozome—adding the base-color to fabric that has taken on an extra pattern from the punched aluminum panel during stenciling.
  • After stenciling on a textured board—a wooden board with a raised grain produced by an uzukuri process—the fabric displays a faint grain texture.
  • Hirose Dye-Works has a large collection—about 4,000 designs—of Ise Katagami stencils, some of which were made as long ago as the latter half of the Edo Period.
  • Katazome—stenciling on a punched aluminum panel instead of a wooden board.
  • Katazome—stenciling on a textured board instead of a smooth board. The wooden board has its grain raised by an uzukuri process.
  • Nagasaka’s Pixel Chair (left) and Pixel Table Low (right).
  • Nagasaka’s Pixel Chair (left) and Pixel Table Low (right).
  • Marbling created by using two different colors of dye.
  • The keman-suji Ise Katagami pattern design was used for Gara guse sonomama(registration marks still visible), a bolt of kimono fabric finished without hiding the alignment guides used during stenciling.