Keisuke Serizawa - The Katazome Calendar Prints 1946-Present

Keisuke Serizawa 芹沢銈介 (1895-1984), a leader of the mingei (folk craft) movement, created the kataezome 型絵染  technique of stencil dying which was designated an Important Intangible Cultural Property in April 1956 with Serizawa himself recognized as a Living National Treasure of Japan embodying this technique.

Over his lifetime, Serizawa created countless designs for everything from matchbox covers, to kimono, to folding screens. But his most popular works are his mass produced, kataezome, stencil-dyed picture calendars on Japanese paper using designs drawn from Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Western motifs. These annual calendars, released in the late fall of the previous year, were first issued by Serizawa in 1946 and continue to be produced today by the traditional paper making company Keijusha 桂樹舎 in Toyama using previous years' (using a year with the same starting weekday and equal number of days) stencils originally cut by Serizawa, each stenciled by hand onto Keijusha's traditionally made durable paper, Yatsuo washi, particularly suited to withstand the rigors of stencil dying.

The First Calendar in 1946 - Cover and Month of June

Re-issue of 1966 Design in 2011 

NHK World - Japan, October 2022

The making of calendars for the coming year, using traditional paper, is in full swing at a workshop in central Japan. The locally produced paper, known as "Yatsuo washi," is sturdy and brightly patterned. It has been used throughout history for wrapping. The workshop, called "Keijusha," is in Toyama Prefecture. It has been producing calendars using Yatsuo washi for more than 70 years.

Every process is still done by hand, from making the paper to dyeing. Artisans first apply glue to the areas not subject to coloring. After the glue dries, colors are added one at a time with brushes, using patterns.

Kamimura Mika, an artisan at the firm, says, "Each calendar is different because it's handmade by a different artisan. I hope these differences come out".

The workshop plans to produce 1,200 copies by the end of November.

Calendar Origins

Source: Serizawa: Master of Japanese Textile Deign, Joe Earle, et. al., Japan Society and Yale University Press, 2009, p. 15.

At the end of World War II, Serizawa's "patron Shikiba Ryūzaburō [式場隆三郎 (1898-1965), psychiatrist, writer and art critic] persuaded him to design the first of his paper calendars, which feature a rich medley of motifs drawn not only from traditional Japanese and Okinawan design but also from Western traditions of manuscript decoration. The original plan was to print the designs using conventional technology, but because Serizawa could not meet the printers' deadline he produced the calendars using stencils and was so pleased with the result that he decided to continue making them the same way. At the peak of the calendars' popularity, the Serizawa Paper-Dyeing Research Institute (芹沢染紙研究所), founded in 1955, was publishing more than 10,000 copies a year, all of them hand-stenciled."[1] 

[1] I believe the Institute continued publishing the calendars until Serizawa's death in 1984, when its production was taken over by the maker of traditional paper, Keijusha in Toyama.

Calendars in the Collection

click on any image below to see the entire calendar for that year


IHL Cat. #2651


IHL Cat. #2644


IHL Cat. #2646


IHL Cat. #2645


IHL Cat. #2647


IHL Cat. #2648


IHL Cat. #2649


IHL Cat. #2650

Stencil Dyed Paper

"Stencil dyed paper which is as widely known overseas as it is in this country, is one of the few successful carryovers necessitated by wartime stringency and lack of materials. When it became more and more difficult for dyers to obtain material, Mr. Keisuke Serizawa resorted to the idea of applying the same stencil dyeing technique to handmade "Kozo" paper, which is tough enough to withstand all the processes through which cloth must pass in order to be dyed. The results of the experiment proved remarkably successful and opened up a new realm for decorative papers."

 - Brochure "Japanese Stencil-Dyed Paper" issued by Takumi Craft Shop, Ginza, Tokyo, c. 1945.

A Little About Serizawa Keisuke

photo of the artist c. 1940s

Serizawa was not primarily a printmaker, but his illustrated books using kappazuri technique (prints using a paper stencil, hand-painted with color on Japanese paper), such as Ehon Don Kihote (Don Quixote Illustrated), 1936 (see illustration below) and Mashiko higeri (A Day Trip to  Mashiko), 1943, had considerable influence on the graphic arts, especially on the print artists Munakata Shikō 棟方志功 (1903-1975), Watanabe Sadao 渡辺禎雄 (1913-1996) and Mori Yoshitoshi 森義利 (1898-1992) each of whom studied with him for a period. 

"Born into a family of cloth merchants, Serizawa was, literally, born into textiles. His grandfather was a calligrapher and, likely, the inspiration behind Serizawa’s subsequent use of Japanese symbols and Chinese letters in his designs. Early in life, he began painting and aspired to the fine arts. When his family’s financial setbacks dashed these hopes, he enrolled at a design college. After graduating, he began teaching and found work as a commercial designer, two pursuits that followed him for the rest of his life."[1]

 A world famous designer, painter, illustrator, dyer, book, paper and print maker, Keisuke Serizawa attracted international attention as early as 1925 for his distinctive Kataezome style, combining Japanese dyeing techniques with those of Okinawan bingata (stencil-dyed textiles.) This he applied with equal success to kimono and fabric patterns, wall hangings, paintings, fans and original prints. Above all, Keisuke Serizawa became a leading artist of 'Mingei' -- which in Japanese generally means folk art.[2] 

In 1956 Serizawa was designated by the Government of Japan as a "Living National Treasure" (intangible cultural asset) for his mingei (folk art or folk craft) work using hand-stenciled dyeing (katazome) techniques in which he combined traditional Japanese dyeing techniques with the bingata style he learned in Okinawa. As opposed to the traditional separation of labor in stencil dyeing, involving three individual craft people, one to cut the stencil, one to apply the resist design and one to do the actual dyeing, Serizawa insisted on performing or supervising all the steps himself. 

He was a leading first-generation member of the mingei (folk craft) movement along with its founder Yanagi Sōetsu 柳宗悦 (1889-1961), potter Hamada Shōji 濱田庄司 (1894-1978) and British potter and print maker Bernard Leach (1887-1979) among others. His designs were reproduced for use as book and book cover illustrations, calendars, matchbook covers, brochures, newspaper and magazine illustrations, kimono, paper prints, wall hangings and scrolls, folding screens, curtains, fans and much more.


[2] Mingei International Museum

Still frame (1974) from the video "The Art of Keisuke Serizawa - A National Treasure of Japan, produced by the Japan Mingei International Museum

See the complete video at


Source: "The Myth of Yanagi's Originality: The Formation of Mingei Theory in its Social and Historical Context " by Yuko Kikuchi, appearing in Journal of Design History, 1994, Vol. 7, No. 4 (1994), pp. 247-266, Oxford University Press on behalf of Design History Society, Stable URL:

Yanagi Sōetsu (1889-1961) was a leader of the Mingei (folk crafts) movement which developed in Japan in the 1920s and launched a nation-wide campaign for the revival of folk crafts. The aesthetic theory of the movement emphasized the supreme beauty of hand-made folk crafts for ordinary use, made by unknown craftsmen working in groups, free of ego and free of the desire to be famous or rich, merely working to earn their daily bread. Yanagi categorized the beauty of folk crafts as: (i) beauty of naturalness (natural materials and handmade naturally); (2) beauty of tradition (method and design); (3) beauty of simplicity (form and design); (4) beauty of functionality (form and design); (5) beauty of plurality (objects which could be copied and repeatedly produced in large quantities); (6) beauty of inexpensiveness; (7) beauty of selflessness (made by unknown, unlearned, poor craftsmen); and (8) beauty of health (not fragile). Using these categories, he set the standard of the 'true craft'. In later developments to strengthen this theory and to give a spiritual and religious explanation to the attitude of unknown craftsmen and the environment in which the works were created, he also used Buddhist analogies and terminology. Both in Japan and the West, his aesthetic ideas have been widely acknowledged and have become seminal for design history.