Kirikane is an ornamental technique which consists of cutting gold, silver, copper, tin or platinum in lines, triangles or squares and applying them in patterns.

About kirikane
Originally, kirikane patterns have been applied totextiles, metal work or leather to adorn the clothes and armor of statues andpictures of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Kirikaneflourished in the field of Buddhist art with the purpose of celebrating thegrandeur of the images of Buddha. Nowadays, this technique subsists only inJapan. It is an independent category of traditional crafts which has gonebeyond the boundaries of Buddhist art.
History of kirikane.
It is believed that the practice of applying kirikane to Buddhist statuary and pictures came to Japan from the Korean peninsula during Asuka period (538-710). Influenced by the continental culture, Japanese technique of kirikane has developed and reached the culmination of ornamental beauty during the golden age of Buddhist statuary in Heian and Kamakura periods (794-1185, 1185-1333). However, from Edo period, with the popularization of Buddhism, the use of simple and convenient golden paint had spread, leading to the decline of kirikane technique. After the World War II, it has come to ornate traditional handicrafts, such as tea utensils and wooden boxes, gradually bringing the ornamental use of kirikane back to life.
The technique of kirikane
1) Preparation of gold foil -- sneezing is forbidden !
Gold leaf used for kirikane is only 10μm (0,00001 mm) thick! It is made of 24 karat gold with the addition of silver and copper. Gold foil with high percentage of gold in it is often used to reinforce the solemnity. The usual size of square gold leaf is 109x109 mm. Each leaf placed between the sheets of glossy washi paper is so thin that can be blown off with a breath and is carefully handled with a pair of special bamboo tweezers.
2) Burning gold leaves together : a unique technique of kirikane
To strengthen gold leaves and to make them thicker and more flexible, they are burned together. First of all, 2 gold leaves are placed over hot (~1000℃) charcoal to join them together, then add one extra leaf on each side of the double leaves to obtain one flawless thick leaf(made of 4 leaves). These days, sometimes iron is used instead of charcoal.
3) Cutting gold leaf to stripes thinner than human hair
After making a thick gold leaf, the cutting process is performed with the help of a special bamboo knife. The knife is made by splitting a piece of slender bamboo (⌀ 20 mm) that was dried for 5~10 years. Obtained piece of bamboo is cleaned of skin and delicately sharpened. Without oil and static electricity, bamboo is perfect for cutting gold leaves easily, as gold doesn’t stick to it.
Gold leaf being very thin and slippery, the cutting process is executed on a special stand covered with deerskin with talc powder sprinkled over it. During the process, the thickness of the gold leaf is measured by eye and the leaf is cut to fine stripes sometimes thinner than human hair.
4) Applying gold leaf stripes without sketch
After cutting the gold leaf, it’s time to affix it. In case of applying golf leaf stripes to a Buddhist statue, a special glue is used : a mix of funori (glue made from seaweed) and nikawa (glue derived from animal skin).
Artisan proceeds to the operation holding a brush in each hand. Gold leaf stripe is wrapped around the moistened tip of the brush held in the left hand. The tip of the brush held in the right hand is soaked in the glue dissolved in water, and the gold leaf stripe is delicately applied according to the pattern. Then, by adjusting the stripe little by little, the garments of the Buddhist statue are given a three-dimensional effect.
The beauty of kirikane
In Japan, kirikane decorates almost all the wooden Buddhist statues of historical value. Wrinkles on the statue’s garments, pedestal or halo are embellished with extremely elaborate kirikane ornaments. Moreover, its appearance changes with the angle of view, making its beauty even more prominent.

After the Second World War, kirikane has become an independent category of traditional crafts. The technique is used to adorn tea containers, incense containers, card cases, etc. with complex patterns.

After the Second World War, kirikane has become an independent category of traditional crafts. The technique is used to adorn tea containers, incense containers, card cases, etc. with complex patterns.

The Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN
Credits: Story

Supported by:
Ootsuka Kasen

Movie by:
Takayama Kengo(A-PROJECTS


Photo by:
Kuwajima Kaoru

Exhibition created by:
Kubo Kaoru( Department of Apparel and Space Design, Kyoto Women's University
Ueyama Emiko( Department of Apparel and Space Design, Kyoto Women's University
Nagatomo Kana( Department of Apparel and Space Design, Kyoto Women's University

Project Directer by:
Maezaki Shinya, Kyoto Women's University

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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