Koshu lacquered deer leather Photo:Yamanashi Tourism Organization

Koshu lacquered deer leather Koshu inden

The meeting of buckskin and Japanese lacquer
Comfortable, light and soft leather


What is Koshu lacquered deer leather ?

Koshu lacquered deer leather (called Koshu inden in Japanese) is a unique style of leather craft that was developed in the city of Kofu, Yamanashi prefecture. Today, a wide range of buckskin bags, wallets and pouches made with urushi lacquer (Japanese lacquer) patterns are available.
This traditional technique was popular among samurai during the Age of Warring States (1467-1603) and it had a great effect on their suits of armor. The soft and light leather burnishes to a high polish with use, and the Japanese lacquer makes any item more serviceable.
Koshu lacquered deer leather is much appreciated for its beautiful patterns including such popular motifs as small cherry blossoms, irises and dragonflies; these high quality designs depicting the beauty of nature and the four seasons are particularly popular. Requiring a high craftsmanship with much experience, it is the only leather craft in Japan using straw smoke and resin to cure and color the leather in a range of unique colors. Designs are also stenciled on using paper patterns to give a great effect.
Historians believe that the famous local warlord Shingen TAKEDA (a feudal lord and famous military leader, 1521-1573) wore Koshu lacquered deer leather armors and owned a large Koshu lacquered deer leather container to store his suits of armor. It is truly a traditional craft long loved in Koshu.


Koshu lacquered deer leather  - History Photo:Yamanashi Tourism Organization

Koshu lacquered deer leather has a long history, and old documents record its production area was already well identified in the Edo period (1603-1868). The history of leather goods in Japan dates back to the Nara period (710-794), when the techniques of tanning leather and patterning with Japanese lacquer were imported from abroad.
The name inden probably originates from the fact that during the Edo period from 1624 to 1643 people from abroad offered Indian leather products to the Tokugawa shogunate. There are several theories of the origin of the word inden, such as Indo (India in Japanese), or Indo denrai ("came from India"). Even though inden crafts were probably made nationwide during the Edo period, only Koshu lacquered deer leather in Yamanashi has been preserved to this day.
During the Meiji period (1868-1912), Koshu lacquered deer leather products such as shingen cloth pouches and drawstring pouches won awards at the Domestic Industrial Exhibition resulting in inden becoming a well-known craft in Yamanashi. Handbags began to be made during the Taisho period (1912-1926), and it was designated as one of the Traditional Crafts by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry in 1987.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Dyeing At first, the underside of the buckskin is scraped smoothly in preparation for lacquering. Then about a hundred pieces of white buckskin are dyed in a washing machine sized dyeing machine Each buckskin has a different characteristic and will absorb dye in its own unique way, creating a variety of natural and pleasant effects. Chains may be used to remove the fine furs. Depending on the design, hemp thread is wound around the buckskin or Japanese lacquer (urushi) patterns are applied before dying. The buckskins are also placed in a cylindrical bottle called taiko for straw smoking and coloring.
  2. 2. Cutting The rough cutting is made with a technique called aradachi. A variety of blades and knives are used to precisely cut different items. Sometimes two ends of leather do not meet, but it is actually regarded as an authentication of natural quality.
    The fusube technique is used in the final cutting process.
  3. 3. Patterning This process is about making patterns. In the urushi oki technique, a hand-carved stencil pattern made of traditional Japanese paper (washi) is placed on the leather and lacquer is applied evenly with a spatula.
    In the sarasa technique, colorful prints are created using a different paint for each hand-carved paper stencil pattern. High skills are required for handling urushi to control seasonal factors such as temperature or humidity, and to apply urushi evenly. It takes approximately 3 to 7 days to complete a typical article made of beautiful lacquered deer leather.
    In the fusube technique, chains are used on white buckskin to remove fine furs. Depending on the design, hemp yarn is wound around the leather or patterns glued in place before dying. Buckskins are honey colored by straw smoking in a taiko. Some hides are smoked for 4 to 5 hours longer with resin to deepen the color from yellowish brown to brown. After removing the thread and glue, the patterned buckskins are dried in a constant temperature drying room, before being left for a few days in a shady and airy room.
  4. 4. Sewing/Finishing In the urushi zuke and sarasa techniques, the patterned leather is cut to shape and chamfered to thin the edges before sewing it into the final piece. Hand stitching is carefully carried out along the edge of any uneven urushi patterned surface. Light hammering is used to shape the item and leather is sewn on the reverse side along with the fitting of snaps, zippers and any leather fittings. Each item is meticulously inspected and only the highest quality pieces are awarded the inden label and passed to the markets.
    Once favored by samurai, inden is today loved by the all generations in the forms of smartphone cases and other daily accessories.

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