Katsuyama Noren Guide

Katsuyama Noren 勝山

Jake Davies

Purchase Noren from Japan - beautiful noren curtains delivered to your home or business

Katsuyama is a small town along the banks of the Asahi River in the mountains of northern Okayama Prefecture, and is now part of Maniwa City.

Katsuyama, Okayama.
Unique noren featuring maneki neko cats in Katsuyama, Okayama Prefecture
Unique noren on a shop in Katsuyama, Okayama.
Unique noren on a shop in Katsuyama

There are several towns named Katsuyama across Japan, the best known is probably the one in Fukui prefecture, and to distinguish it the railway station of this Katsuyama in Okayama is named Chugoku-Katsuyama.

During the Edo Period the town grew and prospered as a stop along the Izumo Kaido, the trade route that connected the Izumo region on the Japan Sea coast with Kyoto and Osaka.

Katsuyama, Okayama.
The main street of Katsuyama Historic Preservation District
Colorful and bold noren in Katsuyama, Okayama.
Colorful and bold noren in Katsuyama

Katsuyama History

Katsuyama was also a port, as the river was navigable down to Okayama. The town was originally named Takata, but in 1764 it was taken over by the Miura clan, who built a small castle on the mountaintop and renamed the town Katsuyama.

In the latter half of the twentieth century the town, like so many in rural Japan, suffered from accelerating depopulation.

In 1985 the prefecture designated Katsuyama an Historical Preservation District and that brought a few visitors to the town, but could not halt its decline.

Katsuyama was well on the way to becoming a ghost town.

However, for the past decade the number of visitors to the town has been on the increase and this is largely due to the efforts of one particular person - Yoko Kano.

Katsuyama, Okayama.
Asaki River and Gozenshuu sake brewery in Katsuyama
Kote-e plaster relief on the storehouse at Gozenshuu sake brewery in Katsuyama, Okayama.
Kote-e plaster relief on the storehouse at Gozenshuu sake brewery in Katsuyama

Yoko Kano

Her family had historically run one of the sake breweries in the town, though she studied textiles and weaving at university. She decided to design and make some noren to hang in front of the old sake brewery that she then was running as a shop.

Noren are the traditional divided half-length curtains often found hanging in the doorways of  Japanese eateries, hots springs, ryokans, etc as well as some homes. They have possibly been around for about a thousand years and were probably originally meant just to protect goods on display, but now have the function of being like a billboard, advertising the name of the establishment, and also an "open" sign, being hung up outside the doorway when somewhere opens.

Kano's noren that she produced for herself was admired by her neighbors. They asked her to make one for them and gradually more and more businesses and homes in the town acquired one until now there are over 100 on display along the main street. People flock to Katsuyama from all over Japan and overseas to view them.

Noren may be traditional, but Yoko Kano's designs are not. She works with her customers to produce something unique that reflects the client's business or interests, and her noren are much more colorful than traditional ones.

She was also invited to produce a series of noren for homes in the art village on Naoshima in the Inland Sea.

Her family's former sake brewery is now a gallery and studio where she continues to produce innovative designs with help from a team of four assistants.

Hinoki Gallery
193, Katsuyama, Maniwa
Okayama 717-0013

Katsuyama, Okayama.
Striking modern noren in Katsuyama
Main street of Katsuyama, Okayama.
Main street of Katsuyama

Thanks in large part to Kano's noren the town is thriving somewhat. There are numerous trendy cafes, gift shops and souvenir stores now open as well as other places of interest, like the local history museum, and an old samurai home.

In the railway station is the Visitor Information Center which has maps in English for places to visit and suggested walking routes to view the noren.

Maniwa Information Center
420-2, Katsuyama, Maniwa-shi, Okayama 717-0013
Tel: 0867-45-7111
Open 8.30am to 5pm

Exquisite relief carvings at Anyoji Temple in Katsuyama.
Exquisite relief carvings at Anyoji Temple in Katsuyama
Edo Period paintings of Bonsai at Ho-un shrine in Katsuyama, Okayama.
Edo Period paintings of Bonsai at Ho-un Shrine in Katsuyama

If you have an interest in traditional Japanese arts then are several sites worth seeking out. At the north end of the town is a large sake brewery still in operation, Gozenshuu, and one of their traditional storehouses has some excellent examples of kote-e, the plaster reliefs sometimes found on temples and storehouses.

The designs here include dragons and other mythical creatures. There is a road lined with numerous temples and shrines running along the base of the hill, and most of them have some things of interest, but particularly noteworthy is Anyoji Temple.

On the main hall of Anyoji there are some remarkably detailed and colorful relief carvings. Ho-un Shrine has a series of old paintings of bonsai, and other temples and shrines have some unusual carvings and reliefs too. They are well worth an hour to wander around and explore.

Access - Getting to Katsuyama

Chugoku-Katsuyama Station is on the JR Kishin Line. About 2 and a half hours from Okayama Station, or 3 hours from Himeji.

Traditional architecture and contemporary noren in Katsuyama.
Traditional architecture and contemporary noren in Katsuyama

Noren Video

Watch a video of beautifully designed noren photographed throughout the town of Katsuyama in Okayama prefecture.

Design your own Noren - contact GoodsFromJapan.com and send us your design - preferably in an Adobe Illustrator file - we offer quotations for original noren

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