These modern Inden products are designed and manufactured by INDEN-YA, established in 1582. The time-honored company regenerates the traditional crafts into chic fashion items. Available at hi-end department stores and fashion retail stores.
Those who kept their Merit Badges from the Boy Scouts may fondly remember the times they spent stamping designs into leather in order to make specific craft objects and works of art. Whether a case for a special pocketknife was needed, or you wanted to carve leather into a special portrait for your grandmother, leatherwork has remained a special niche in American culture. Japan, meanwhile, is certainly no stranger to vivid artistic patterns, and the Japanese have managed to transform deerskin into an age-old and well-respected form of traditional leatherwork.
Koshu Inden, or just simply Inden, has about four hundred years of history to support its unique presence. It is a handicraft in which one adorns soft and tanned deerskin leather with delicately made artistic patterns using specially created stencils and urushi lacquer, which is known for the unique sheen which it develops over time. During the seventeenth century, large amounts of deerskin leather were imported to Japan from India. (Inden is an abbreviation of the phrase Indo denrai, which translates to English as “shipped from India”). In the early Edo Period, the technique that applies urushi lacquer patterns onto deerskin leather was invented in Koshu (current Yamanashi Prefecture), and this became Koshu Inden. The technique spread nationwide, and today, it is made outside Koshu as well. The Inden were originally employed to decorate drawstring pouches, tobacco holders, and specific parts of a samurai warrior’s armor.
What make Inden products so distinguishable are the vivid, nature-inspired patterns that are both simplistic and amazingly detailed. Inden products are decorated using katagami, which is the craft of hand-carving special designs into colored washi paper to make special stencils that will later be laid over dyed deerskin to produce the alluring textures that Inden products are famous for. Such patterns include the seigaiha pattern that represents the vast oceans, the kozakura pattern that adorns specific battle attire with small cherry blossoms, and the tombo dragonfly pattern, which samurai wore on their gear, as they believed the insect was an assurance of victory because it could only fly forward. There has been an increase in Inden products that recreate original patterns such as the famous Pac-Man maze!
What is even more impressive about Inden products is the deerskin leather they’re made out of, which is normally characterized as having a texture that closely resembles human skin. When you touch it, it always has a soft and durable texture no matter how sturdy it is. In fact, the material becomes much smoother to the touch, the more the product is used.
Although samurai armor may no longer be on the market, today, you can get a feel of Inden’s beautiful textures through a regular variety of shoulder bags, wallets, purses, handbags, and other consumer goods. Even if you’re not familiar with Japanese culture, let alone the history of Inden, these are unique items that freeze in time a traditional craft that hardly gets much attention outside of Japan.
Techniques for Inden making are handed down for centuries at INDEN-YA.
There is no rule for the stencil patterns, and the creative choices are limitless. This wallet and card case by Cypris Collection have black urushi patterns on black leather and look as if they’re made with tiny beads. Available at WAZA Shop: 1073 6th Ave., Kinokuniya Bookstore, NYC
Inden crafts are now found in hand bags, card cases, wallets, keychain charms, and even coasters.
Information about Cypris Collection products