Kogin Zashi Clothing

Example of kogin zashi embroidery, Japan Example of kogin zashi embroidery, Japan

Kogin zashi (or simply kogin) clothing from Japan is a regional style characterised by its decoration with a form of pattern darning. It is regarded as a form of sashiko. It derives from the Aomori Prefecture, in the northern part of Honshu Island, Japan.

Kogin zashi literally means ‘small cloth (kogin) with stitches’ (zashi)'. Originally the embroidery work was carried out by the women of farming families. Girls started to learn this work at the age of five to seven. As they grew older they started to make and embroider kogins for their future husbands and themselves during the winter. Once they were married they became too busy to make kogins. Often their kogins were used to judge their skills and patience as farmers’ future wives. Newly stitched kogins were used for special occasions and when they were worn out, used for work. The stitched parts were recycled; when worn out, sleeves and lower parts of the clothes were replaced.

After a long period of use, kogins were sometimes redyed and/or stitched over, until the original kogin patterns could not be seen anymore. Elderly women would prefer to wear dyed ones, even if they were freshly stitched to avoid standing out, as fresh white stitches were regarded as a symbol of youth. Those dyed kogins were called Aba or Uba (old woman) kogin.

This technique was first documented as sashiko ginu (‘sashiko stitched cloth’) in 1788, in a book by Sadahiko Hirano, entitled Ōmin Zui ('Illustrated Records on the Peoples of the Northern Provinces'). It is written that the people wore indigo dyed clothes that had intricately embroidered patterns done with white threads. In the late eighteenth century the feudal lords had encouraged farmers to plant cotton to avoid cotton from other areas of Japan coming into their land. They also allowed farmers to use cotton threads for their kogin. Until then, farmers and their families were not allowed to wear cotton clothes, nor use coloured threads. Instead they wore rough, indigo dyed ramie, which was neither comfortable to wear nor warm. The farmers added strength and warmth by working white cotton threads into their clothes.

From the Meiji period in the nineteenth century, cotton became more widely available and the use of kogin zashi reached a peak. Farmers and their families started to decorate their working clothes as well as special occasion garments, notably wedding attire.

Kogin zashi declined in popularity when softer and stronger cotton cloth became widely available after a railway was constructed between Tokyo and Hirosaki, the central city in the Tsugaru district, in 1894. By the early twentieth century kogin zashi had become almost extinct, as the embroiderers grew older and few continued the time consuming tradition.

See also kogin zashi and kogin zashi technology. See also the kimono with kogin decoration.


  • HIROSAKI KOGIN INSTITUTE, Co., Ltd (2013). Tsugaru Kogin – Zashi, Technique and Patterns, Tokyo, Seibundo Shinkosha.
  • KIYOKO, Ogikubo (1993). Kogin and Sashiko Stitch, Kyoto, Kyoto Shoin.
  • KITAHARA, Kanako and Hannah Joy SAWADA (2008). An Introduction To Tsugaru Studies, Hirosaki: Hirosaki University Press (in Japanese and English).
  • KITAHARA, Kanako and Hannah Joy SAWADA (2012). Tsugaru Indigo, Hirosaki: Hirosaki University Press.
  • TANAKA, Chuaburo. Michinoku no Kofu no Sekai (The world of old textiles in northern part of Honshu Island, Japan) , (2009). Tokyo, Kawaide Shobo Shinsya.
  • YOKOSHIMA, Naomichi (1974). Tsugaru Kogin, Tokyo, NHK Press.
  • https://tohoku-standard.jp/en/standard/aomori/koginzashi/

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 5 July 2016).


Last modified on Saturday, 01 October 2016 17:44
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