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Kanji, Kana & Pronunciation
Motif sarasa 01.jpg
Imported sarasa in collection of LACMA
Romaji Sarasa
Kanji 更紗
Kana サラサ
Audio Coming Soon
(n) Chintz, calico block print

Sarasa initially referred to imported cotton fabric from India or Indonesia, which was mordant dyed by stamping with a woodblock or wax-resist dyed.[1]

The high cost of the imported sarasa led to the development of wasarasa (和更紗, Japanese sarasa), which was initially manufactured by applying multiple katagami stencils or by freehand drawing designs with pigments on imported plain cotton cloth. Unlike mordant dyes, pigments are not colorfast and Edo era wasarasa was especially prone to fading with washing. Eventually, domestic cotton production increased and the introduction of chemical dyes allowed wasarasa to become equally ranked with imported sarasa.

Imported sarasa used for Edo period obi in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum


Sarasa is printed on cotton and is composed of imported and adapted motifs from the Indian subcontinent. Wasarasa always has at least three colors used in printing unlike traditional katazome which at the time of sarasa's importation used only one, often indigo. The use of madder red (akane) is one of sarasa's distinguishing characteristics.


Sarasa obi being worn by Beauties of the Eastern Quarter (北尾重政, c.1777) by Kitao Shigemasa in the collection of the Minneapolis Museum of Arts
Imported sarasa used in late Edo period tobacco pouch in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum

Imported Sarasa

Sarasa was first imported to Japan from Indonesia by the Portuguese in the mid 15th century. Sarasa is a borrowed word from the Portuguese saraça, meaning a finely woven cotton fabric from India, often translated into English as chintz or calico.[2] In the Muromachi era up to the end of the Edo era, imported sarasa was known as kowatari sarasa (古渡り更紗) to distinguish it from domestically produced sarasa.[3]

Different sarasa designs were produced for the Indian, European, Thai, Indonesian, and Japanese markets.[4]

As an imported good, sarasa was initially very expensive and was used mostly for small items, such as tobacco pouches (also an imported good) and tea ceremony goods. Relatively small pieces were often cut into triangle shapes and applied as patchwork to obi, kimono, or even juban.

In 1648, France began producing its own sarasa for export and English manufacturers soon followed.[5] These cotton textiles reflected European tastes with European style flowers and Oriental fantasy landscapes.

Domestic Production

Example of wasarasa motifs from Sarasa Binran (更紗便覧, 1734-1810) in the collection of the Waseda University Library

Wasarasa (和更紗), Japanese domestically produced sarasa, began to be manufactured around the mid Edo period.[6] Three important sarasa design books (Sarasa binran, Zōho kafu binran, Sarasa zufu) were published in the second half of the 18th century and became the basis for most wasarasa designs. Initially these designs were applied to imported cotton cloth. Wasarasa often combines multiple designs or motifs within stripes, triangles, or hexagons as a nod to the way valuable sarasa was often patched together in the past.

Wasarasa was produced using techniques Japanese artisans were already familiar with, such as freehand painting (similar to yūzen) and stencil dyeing (similar to katazome). Lack of access to madder dye meant artisans used pigments to apply the designs, so unlike imported sarasa, wasarasa was not colorfast. Wasarasa was mainly used to make goods that needed little washing, for example, furoshiki, bags, and futon covers.

Sarasa's popularity in the Kansai region led to most of the wasarasa techniques being pioneered there.[7] Some notable examples include Nabeshima-sarasa (Arita), Sakai-sarasa (Sakai), Kyo-sarasa (Kyoto), Horikawa-sarasa (Kyoto), and Amakusa-sarasa (Nagasaki). Wasarasa production required skilled labor and imported goods and production was mostly centered in larger cities in contrast to techniques like shibori which were widely produced in rural areas.

Wasarasa's quality steadily improved as domestic cotton became available and synthetic dyes replaced pigments. After World War II, Edo-sarasa began to dye sarasa patterns on silk using katagami stencils and synthetic dyes leading to a revival in the popularity of wasarasa in the postwar Showa period.


Formality & TPO

TPO - Within Japan

Occasion Acceptable
Hotel Wedding Reception No
Restaurant Wedding Reception No
Formal Party OK
Casual Party Yes
Dinner OK
Lunch Yes
Tea Gathering No
Graduation Ceremony No
Practice OK
Theatre, Concert OK
Exhibition Yes
Travel Yes
Yes - Acceptable to wear.
OK - OK to wear if no suitable alternatives.
No - Unacceptable to wear.

Article Notes

Relevant Threads / Discussions


  1. Wasarasa Chintz. Accessed July 11, 2017.
  2. Glossary of Japanese Words of Portuguese Origin. Accessed July 11, 2017.
  3. Nitanai, Keiko. Kimono Design: An Introduction to Textiles and Patterns. Tuttle Publishing, Vermont. 2017. p.171.
  4. Yoshioka, Sachio. Sarasa, Printed and Painted Textiles. Kyoto Shoin Co, Ltd. Kyoto, 1993. pp.3-32.
  5. Yoshioka, Sachio. Sarasa, Printed and Painted Textiles. Kyoto Shoin Co, Ltd. Kyoto, 1993. p.72.
  6. Wasarasa Chintz. Accessed July 11, 2017.
  7. Nitanai, Keiko. Kimono Design: An Introduction to Textiles and Patterns. Tuttle Publishing, Vermont. 2017. p.171.