Supporting Company: Canon Marketing Japan Inc.

Hirosaki City AOMORI


“Kogin-zashi” is one of the needlework techniques that were originated in the Edo Era and passed down to the Tsugaru region.
White cotton threads were stitched in the linen working clothes “Kogin”, which were dyed in indigo blue, for the purpose of reinforcing the loose weave and, thereby, increasing insulation. For women in farm villages, who lived snow-bound for almost half of the year and led economically and socially constrained hard lives, Kogin-zashi became one of their household artworks in due course of time and fine geometric patterns were created one after another to decorate garments.

The Basic Geometric Patterns

The traditional Kogin-zashi has retained approximately 600 patterns so far. Approximately 300 of them were selected as the basic designs by HIROSAKI KOGIN INSTITUTE, Co., Ltd. and were defined as “Modoko” or the geometric patterns constituting the smallest elements of the designs.

In the advent of the Folk Art Movement in Japan, Mr. Muneyoshi Yanagi, the famed art historian, once visited Hirosaki and evaluated Kogin-zashi very highly. “HIROSAKI KOGIN INSTITUTE, Co., Ltd.” was inspired and initiated its research. The editor visited and interviewed Mr. Sadaharu Narita, President, at his craft studio in Hirosaki City, Aomori.

In what way have you explored Kogin-zashi?

The research started in the period of Showa when our firm was trading homespun clothes. Because we had scarce resources available at that time, we interviewed people in farmhouses, collected old clothes and materials, copied the kogin-zashi patterns on graphs and laboriously confirmed the patterns by stitching one stitch to another.

What characterizes Kogin-zashi?

When it comes to Kogin-zashi, it is characterized by “Odd Number Stitching” of 1-, 3-, 5-, 7-vertical threads.. Initially it seemed to be of “Even Number”. The reason might be that, as time passed by, people in the Tsugaru region found that stitching patterns in odd numbers was easier than in even numbers, so they shifted to the odd ones.

In crafting Kogin-zashi, what is the important point of the process?

The most difficult job to do in the work is to request production of original raw cloth. It is essential that the woven cloth has a delicate balance - not too loose but not too tightly woven. We should not even make the first stitch if the finish of the cloth is not stable, spaces between threads are not orderly or there is even a broken thread, so the cloth has to be carefully checked. We ask to weave the necessary amount of cloth all at one time in early spring in Shiga Prefecture. It amounts to about 3,000 meters a year.

In what respect are you attracted by Kogin-zashi?

Without doubt, by its geometric patterns. Exactly the same geometric patterns have been found all over the world, irrespective of their individual uses. In the case of Kogin, I am attracted most by the patterns stitched for clothes worn by farm village people in the Edo Era. Fashionable women tended to have competitive spirits so they did not like to wear the same patterns as others. They modified the Kogin patterns bit by bit, thus, a variety of geometric patterns came into being. In some way, I think Kogin-zashi resembles music. In music, though there are only eight tones employed, do, re, mi. fa, sol, la, ti, do, infinite pieces of music are created by changing their orders and lengths of the tones, aren’t they?

What do you feel when you pass down the craft of Kogin-zashi?

We have the role of keeping the work, in the middle position, that has been passed down from the past to us now, and further passing it down to the next. For example, Kogin has its own rules, and when even a single pattern is altered, it is not Kogin any longer but mere “Embroidery”. I’m not criticizing fancy works but making it important to pass it down from the past as accurately as possible.

How is it difficult to create new products while preserving the tradition?

When thinking about what it is to preserve the tradition, I think we cannot ignore leading our lives by securing the business. In our products, in addition to the original basic colours of Kogin, we accepted clients’ requests and developed Kogin in nine colours including red, purple and so forth. It may happen to be a wrong practice to use colours other than dark blue, but I think such an approach is necessary as far as it opens up more opportunities for people to come to know the traditional craft once it fits in their lives. I believe old things have goodness of their own and new ones alike have goodness of their own.

Sadaharu Narita

Born in Hirosaki City, Aomori, in 1949. In 1979, he entered HIROSAKI KOGIN INSTITUTE, Co., Ltd. when he was asked by his father Masaharu Narita in 1982, and became the Third President of the Institute. He strives to promulgate and carry on Kogin-zashi by producing and trading its craft items.


Address: 61 Zaifu-cho, Hirosaki City, Aomori
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Telephone Number: +81-(0)172-32-0595

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