Koshu lacquered deer leather Photo:Yamanashi Tourism Organization

Koshu lacquered deer leather Koshu inden

Meeting of Buckskin and Urushi, Special to Mountainous Country
Comfortable, Light and Soft Leather Products


What is Koshu lacquered deer leather ?

Koshu Inden is a unique style of leather craft developed in Kofu City, Yamanashi Prefecture and a wide range of buckskin bags, wallets and pouches with urushi (lacquer) patterns are available today.
The technique was popular among samurai in the Warring States period and is seen to great effect on their suits of armor. The soft and light leather burnishes to a high polish with use, and the urushi makes any item more serviceable.
Koshu Inden 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 degree of skill and 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 great effect.
Historians believe that the famous local warlord Shingen TAKEDA wore Koshu Inden armor and owned a large Koshu Inden 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 Inden has a long history, and old documents record its production area was already well-identified in the Edo period. The history of leather goods in Japan dates back to the Nara period, when the techniques of tanning leather and patterning with urushi 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). Though Inden crafts were probably made nationwide in the Edo period, only Koshu Inden in Yamanashi has been preserved to this day.
In the Meiji era, Koshu Inden 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 in the Taisho era, and in 1987, in the Showa era, it was designated as one of the Traditional Crafts by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Dyeing First the underside of the buckskin is scraped smooth in preparation for lacquering. Then about a hundred pieces of white buckskin are placed in a washer-sized dyeing machine; each buckskin has a different nature and will absorb dye in its own unique way and a variety of natural and pleasant effects are spontaneously created. Chains maybe used to remove the fine hairs. Depending on the design, hemp thread is wound around the buckskin or urushi patterns are applied before dying. The buckskins are also placed in a cylindrical taiko for straw smoking and coloring.
  2. 2. Cutting In the urushizuke and sarasa process, this is a rough cutting stage. A variety of blades and knives are used to precisely cut different items. Sometimes two ends of a leather do not meet, but it is actually regarded as an authentication. In the fusube technique, this is the final cutting stage.
  3. 3. Patterning In the urushioki technique, a hand-carved stencil pattern made of traditional Japanese paper is placed on the leather and lacquer is applied evenly with a spatula. In the sarasa technique, colorful prints are created by using a different paint for each hand-carved paper stencil pattern. A high degree of skill is required for handling urushi, such as expertise to control its hardness which is affected by such seasonal factors as temperature or humidity, and to apply lacquer evenly. It takes approximately 3 to 7 days to complete a typical article made of beautiful Inden leather.
    In the fusube technique, chains are used on white buckskin to remove fine hairs. 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 cylindrical 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 urushizuke and sarasa techniques, the patterned Inden leathers are cut to shape and chamfered to thin the edges before sewing into the final product. 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 items of the highest quality are awarded the Inden label.
    Once favored by samurai, today Inden has moved with the times and even daily accessories such as smartphone cases ensure its popularity among people of all ages.

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