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Case Study
Culture and Technology
Yunosuke Kawabe

Hand-painted yuzen dying is a technique used to dye silk fabrics, such as pieces of silk crepe around 12 m long, and involves using a brush to insert color within a pattern enclosed in fine thread. It became popular in Kyoto during the Genroku Period (1688-1704), since when it has mainly been used for kimono dying

Japan Style System Co., Ltd.

Representative Director:
Yunosuke Kawabe

New value through the combination of cutting-edge technology with the Kyo-yuzen dying Kawabe has known since birth

If the hand-painted patterns used in yuzen dying could be produced by using computer graphics (CG), this would free them from the kimono to carve out a new era. This inspiration is now proving itself true in a number of different areas, notably the swimsuits for the Japanese synchronized swimming team at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Yunosuke Kawabe was born into a hand-painted yuzen dying workshop. An attraction to a poster for the Montreal Olympics, however, led to his being sucked into the world of graphic design. Kawabe searched for jobs in advertising agencies in order to progress along that path, and began work in earnest. He then returned to his family home to help out, but he had glimpsed the glittering world outside, so different to the heritage industries, and found himself bored and dissatisfied with conventional yuzen dying. He engaged in a repeated process of trial and error in attempting new developments, at the end of which he arrived at an inspiration: Integrating the traditional yuzen designs passed down within the Kawabe family with the computer technology that was swiftly making inroads. By “factorizing” the yuzen dying production process, he worked out a method for creating new products by recreating it on the computer. This was the starting point for CG Yuzen.

Kawabe has launched yuzen on a new stage, that of technology, and is in the process of extending its possibilities into a range of other areas such as swimsuits, interiors, and bookbinding. As Kawabe himself has mastered the techniques of hand-painted yuzen, he is able to incorporate these traditional methods into the development of CG yuzen. One point for producing good work is color distribution, with each workshop having different methods of creating good yuzen colors through their combinations, intensities, and other characteristics. This is what “brings out the flavor” of yuzen, and Kawabe says he is able to produce distinctive work that makes him feel “something’s right.”
This is a sort of “peculiarity” possessed by each yuzen workshop, and is something that cannot be imitated by outsiders even should they try. Accordingly, Kawabe’s works can be described as expressing the implicit knowledge passed down in the family through the generations and in which he can be confident, not with the brush but with the new tools of computer and CG. This is why those who look closely can discern ineradicable similarities between the CG Yuzen created by Yunosuke and the hand-painted yuzen kimono made by his father Zenji. This is an outstanding embodiment of the inheritance of the core of traditional culture together with new business innovation.

Kyoto is that rare place, a city in which heritage industries and cutting-edge high-tech industries coexist. On the one hand is the ancient Kyoto of Nishijin brocade, yuzen dying, Kiyomizu pottery, and Kyoto dolls. On the other is the new Kyoto in which corporations such as Kyocera, Omron, Rohm, and Nintendo are taking shape at the leading edge of technology. Looking at our 21st-century world, perhaps Japan’s strengths and presence can be summarized by the twin realms of culture and technology. Japan’s immeasurable potential lies in the integration of both of these. Kawabe, who has inherited yuzen in his blood, has created a pioneering fusion. The energy arising from this integration of traditional culture and technology speaks to what lies latent in Kyoto’s depths.

Kawabe designed the swimsuits for the Japanese synchronized swimming team at the 2004 Athens Olympics. The design took kabuki as its motif. The Japanese swimmers won silver medals in both the team and duet events.

A hand-painted kyo-yuzen ceremonial kimono created by Kawabe’s father Zenji. Although he cannot yet match his father’s skills, honed during the more than 50 years of his career, Yunosuke has inherited the core of traditional culture that his father has unwaveringly passed down.

He also designed the large 3-m-tall standing lanterns lit on December 31, 2000 for the Lantern Festival held to commemorate the beginning of the 21st century. Oike Street was lined with 250 of these lanterns, forming an impressive sight.

Kawabe has set up a graphic design studio in his yuzen workshop, and is engaged in the creation of new yuzen patterns by using computer graphics. He says that yuzen made with CG and hand-painted yuzen both have their strengths and weaknesses, and neither can be said to be the perfect textile. Kawabe factorizes both of these and puts them back together, believing that by combining the strengths of both techniques yuzen can move forward into a new era.

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