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Kimono Style | Fabric Dyers Showcase Their Creativity on Beautiful 'Noren' Curtains in Shinjuku

Kimono bolts and noren dyed using both traditional and innovative methods adorned the Myoshoji riverside, which has been the home of fabric dyers for centuries.



Kimono bolts and noren swaying in the wind. (©Sheila Cliffe)

I have written about this little secret in Shinjuku before, but a special event called Some no Komichi is held every year. On February 23–25, the small town of Nakai in Shinjuku was decorated with almost a hundred noren, door curtains, and kimono bolts spread over the Miyoshoji River. Since the late Edo period (1603–1868) this area has been the home of fabric dyers. 

Even today, about 30 workshops remain in the area of Shinjuku around Waseda, Nakai, Ochiai, and Takadanobaba. Traditionally the silks were washed in the river, so all the workshops are found near the river. 

Until the mid-20th century, the dyers could be seen knee-deep in the river washing the paste and excess dyes out of the cloth. After World War II, people realized that washing these chemical dyes into the river might not be such a good idea. New legislation but an end to that tradition. 

Futaba En, the largest dyeing business in Nakai backs onto the river, which has cherry trees growing over it. In a few weeks, it will be a delight to see the river turn pale pink, dyed by the petals floating on the water.

Local businesses, volunteers, and students join with the dyeing houses to produce this annual event. Elementary schools also take part with students dyeing kimono bolts collectively with hand prints and other cute designs. 

An Outdoor Noren 'Exhibition'

Months before the event, a call goes out for noren to be dyed by dyers all around the country. Local businesses volunteer to host a noren and a matching meeting takes place, where the stores and the dyers are paired up. Sometimes the dyer makes a generic noren, but sometimes the dyer takes into account the name or nature of the business, and these noren are particularly charming.

On the day, a guide map can be picked up at the station. Using the numbered map, one can walk around the town and find the noren. The river goes through the center of the town, near the station. And a riverside walk gives a great view of the hanging kimono bolts. 

Here and there, small craft stands dot the streets, as well as sweet sake and small street food stands. In 2024, a dyeing workshop was held in one local elementary school and tour guides were giving official guided tours. There was also a display of paper lanterns decorated by local children, with small lights to go inside them. They bobbed around prettily in the breeze.

Edo Sarasa Chintz

Futaba En is well-known as an Edo sarasa chintz dyer. Edo sarasa requires up to 40 stencils to complete a design. Sarasa was originally imported to Japan from India and Indonesia by Europeans. And the Japanese were fascinated by the colors and original patterns. 


In those days, it was dyed on cotton. One color is used on each stencil and they must all be lined up exactly to complete the design accurately. Futaba En makes a lot of kimono and it also teaches stencil dyeing classes. 

During the Some no Komichi event, Futaba En had a large selection of stencils on display and people were able to stencil a pattern onto a small bag. 

Another famous dyeing method used in this area is Edo Komon, a pattern made with stencils with small dots dyed in one color. The noren showcased other kinds of dyeing too, such as yuzen and batik.

Nearby Futaba En, a local Iaido dojo was having a demonstration and people were enjoying watching sword drawing. With the masters dressed in black kimono and hakama and kneeling to draw their swords, it was a very ceremonious performance.

Notable Noren

There is a local bingata dyeing teacher in Nakai, which meant there were many beautiful bingata noren to see. Bingata usually uses just one stencil and has the whole design on that. The stencils are different and more interesting than the stencils used for sarasa dyeing. These are bright and colorful noren, reflecting the colors of Okinawa from where bingata has its roots.

I particularly enjoyed looking at the noren that were matched to the shops in an interesting way. One of the best matched was an osteopath that had a fish bone design noren, and the word "spine" dyed onto it. A hairdresser called Plover had a noren with a plover standing on bouncy waves and two more flying through the sky. 

An izakaya called Den had a noren with sake bottles and the character for the name in a stylish design. One other very stylish noren was made by tying threads together in interesting ways and knotting it. Finally, it was dip-dyed, probably in indigo, and had a beautiful gradation to the shade.

The next major kimono event in Tokyo will be Tokyo Kimono Show from March 29-31.


Author: Sheila Cliffe
Read other columns on kimono by the author.

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