DYEING Banba Senkogyo

An aquatic-essence behind the Yuzen printing on a black dyed cloth

Text: Keiko Nakamura / Photo: Kanako Takimono
Photo Credit: Kyo-no-Tanabata Jikkoiinkai
Special Thanks: Kyoto Municipal Institute of Industrial Technology and Culture


More people wearing kimono is coloring the town of Kyoto these days. A bright rented kimono here and an elegant formal kimono there, all these various kimono are keeping my eyes busy. Kimono industry could not have flourished this much without the rich water source which has always supported the dyeing business.


The street of Nishonotoin-dori runs north-south in a 'goban no me' pattern (streets in a checkerboard pattern). The river of Nishinotoin-gawa used to run hosting many dyeing business. Many has ceased away due to lacking of successors and declining of industry demand. Of the few dyeing factories left, Banba Senkogyo is a black dye smith in Ryusui-cho that is thriving to match today's needs. There is a well named 'Yanagi no mizu (water of willow)' near the factory. This water is said to have been used by Sen no Rikyu (1522-91, one of the most profound tea master) for tea ceremony. People started using it for dyeing, washing and drinking from 1870. I tried a glass of this soft water and it dissolved so smoothly into my body. 'During my father's time, we had a huge 4 meter width water tank. So many clothes were piled up that I can hear my father but couldn't see him' recalls the 5th generation Maki Banba, the only female black dyemaster in the industry.


The history of 'kuro-mofuku (black mourning clothes)' is not so long. It became common in public only in the Showa period (1926-45). The most flourishing period at Banba was around 1955-70 when many women had made a black kimono with their family emblem upon marriage to be worn at various future ceremonies. The vast amount of orders that had came in until the 4th generation master had gradually started decreasing as the kimono culture shifted to western clothes during the economic bubble period. The space for dyeing had shrunken to 1/8 by this time. Struggling to survive the changing trend, Maki who is also a textile designer, had came up with the idea of re-dyeing clothes. People must have some clothes that they want to change color. 

A black material is dissolved into boiled water, after soaking it in a steaming hot work place, is is rinsed. The rinsing process is done in 5 steps with different water temperature. Handling great amount of water. Maki showed me her arm muscle, saying 'the clothes gets really heavy when soaked in water, and here I am with this maccho-arm!'. She also says that customers gather like a firefly, both seeking for pure water. The good quality water is essential for enabling a high quality dye to keep the business going.

Yuzen is a famous dyeing technique in Kyoto. The bright colored patterns of seasonal flowers and green was invented by Yuzensai Miyazaki, designer for folding fan, who lived near Chionin Shrine. During the early Edo period, people were prohibited of enjoying luxury by the law of Shashikinshirei. Kimono was one of the few items that people could seek for some brightness so Yuzensai's design had grabbed their hearts. The patterns are drawn in a complex way requiring a careful process of putting the glue to separate the colors from blurring. Plenty of water was needed to rinse away these glue and extra dyeing materials. According to Mr. Kazuaki Sugiura, Kyoto Municipal Institute of Industrial Technology and Culture, 'since utsushi-yuzen (present taka yuzen (new stencil dyeing))' had been established many factories went into the river to rinse the cloth. This is called yuzen-nagashi and the bright clothes floating in the river became a charming sight. Yuzen-nagashi had been done at Hori and Nishinotoin Rivers then shifted to Kamogawa and Katsura Rivers. As demands for brighter colors increased, the dyeing materials had shifted from natural items to chemical ones. But in 1971, Water Pollution Control Act had banned the use of river water and so the rinsing process had been moved into the factories and to artificial rivers.


Yuzen-nagashi is now performed at Kamogawa River as part of Kyo-no-Tanabata events in early August. The members of Kyoto Senshoku Seinen Dantai Kyogikai will rinse 2 stripes of clothes designed of Orihime and Hikoboshi (a couple struggling to reunite in the Tanabata (Star Festival)) with some illuminations. Why not put this on your list this summer?


<Banba Senkogyo>
ADDRESS: 75 Ryusui-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto (map)
PHONE: +81(0)75-221-4759
HOURS: 9:00-17:00

Various events at 7 venues during August 1-21, 2016
Kamogawa & Horigawa river venues August 6-12, 19:00-21:30
Yuzen-nagashi at Kamogawa River August 6 & 7, between Oike - Shijo area, time TBD
'Hikari no Yuzen-nagashi' illumination event at Horikawa River will be between Takeyamachi-dori and Marutamachi-dori. Only north going path will be open during the exhibition
* For inquiry: Kyo-no-Tanabata Jikko Iinkai +81(0)75-222-0389 (Weekday 9:00-17:30)