By Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University
By: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Kyoto Women's University
history of Edo karakami paper (1)
Karakami (literally "Chinese paper") is, true to its name, a kind of decorated Japanese paper that was originally founded after decorated Chinese papers imported into the country from Song China. Domestic production of karakami began during the Heian period (794–1185), when it was used for copying sutras and writing poetry. With its elegant impressed gold and silver leaf or glittering mica designs, this paper became the preferred covering for interior sliding door (fusuma) panels in the Muromachi period (1392–1573). Karakami became popular among Kyoto’s noble families and temple and shrines that they began using it for interior decoration and other functions. With the center of political power and economy shifting from Kyoto to Edo (present day Tokyo) during the Edo period (1615–1868), many artisans who learnt the craft from karakami masters in Kyoto relocated to Edo at that time and began producing fusuma paper for households in Edo.
history of Edo karakami paper (2)
During the Edo period (1615–1868), karakami was mostly used in the households of samurai and townspeople. Although the main technique used in Edo karakami—woodblock printing with mica powder—was the same as that developed in Kyoto, additional techniques were used in Edo due to the many karakami woodblocks lost in the city's frequent fires. Some artisans, called sarasashi, began to use Ise katagami (paper stencils), originally made for dying fabric, for karakami. Another specialized group of artisans known as the sunagoshi also emerged; their job was to press or sprinkle metallic foils and powder. At times these separate techniques were combined. By the middle of the Edo period the wide range of variations of Edo karakami patterns and designs were described with the phrase “Kyōho sengata”, (literally, the thousand forms of the Kyōho era."
history of Edo karakami paper (3)
The woodblocks used during the Edo period were small, designed to fit a standard size of paper of which twelve sheets made up one fusuma door panel. During the Meiji (1868–1912), Taishō (1912–1926) and Shōwa (1926–1989) periods, however, the size of fusuma paper increased, leading to enlarged woodblocks for printing Edo karakami paper. This made possible the printing of large, cascading designs, such as bush clover or ivy, that could generously cover the dimension of the paper. After WWII the size of the woodblock was standardized to 910 mm x 1820 mm.
Traditional techniques for creating karakami went into decline with the emergence of cheap, mass-produced fusuma paper during the rapid economic growth of the twentieth century.Seeing the risk to the Edo karakami tradition, Mr. Ban Mitsuhiro (born 1940) of the store Tokyo Matsuya called on artisans to begin reviving the craft. Thanks to such efforts, in 1999, Edo karakami was designated as a Traditional Craft of Japan (dentō kōgeihin).
using mica powder
This technique uses a woodblock with carved patterns to print on the paper. Funori (a seaweed based paste) or konjac potato paste is added to mica powder, and the mixture is then placed onto a sieve. The paste is applied through the sieve over the entire surface of the woodblock. The paper is then placed over the woodblock and pressed using the palm of the hand. Printing with mica results in paper that softly reflects light, creating a subtle, calming effect.
of gold or silver foil flakes
This decorative technique uses gold or silver powder or foil cut into small pieces and placed inside a bamboo cylinder, which are then shaken over paper to create a flecked effect. To do this technique, water is first brushed over the paper followed by a coating of dōsa (a type of paste-like sizing). The metallic powder or foil pieces are then sprinkled over the surface before the glue dries to create a design.This technique was once used on sutras and illustrated handscrolls.
For this technique, a rounded deer-hair brush is used to dye the paper using an Ise katagami stencil (made of openwork washi paper treated with persimmon tannin). In this example only one pattern paper is used, but several pattern papers may be used to print multicolored designs.
This technique involves the brushing of mica paste onto paper and crumpling the paper. Mica paste is applied over paper as a base color. A brush with interval spaces is then used to brush straight lines onto the paper. Once dry the paper is then crumpled three or four times. This creates a subtle effect where the base color come through the randomly detached mica paste—a result of the crumpling.
The essential step of paint making
Koizumi Yukio, Edo karakami maker, says that “the most fundamental step in karakami making is the making of the paint. The color must be consistent when you place the fusuma panels next to one another.” There are 5 basic paint colors: red, blue, yellow, white, and black. These colors are mixed and used as background colors or as pattern colors for woodblock printing.
The base color is brushed over washi paper from Mino area using a flat brush. This step is called gubiki and pale colors are generally used.
Applying pigment with a sieve
The mica or colored paint is applied to the woodblock using a large sieve covered with silk gauze or cheesecloth and by gently tapping the sieve on the woodblock.
The printing is done by placing the woodblock over the standard 910 mm x 1820 mm washi paper. The size of the paper is one of the characteristics of Edo karakami. For the woodblock printing of karakami paper, only the palm of the hand is used to press the pigment from the woodblock onto the paper, instead of using a baren (disk-shaped pad for pressing paper commonly used in ukiyoe printing). Generally, this step is done twice before the next section of the paper is pressed. For this reason, attention must be paid to ensure the joining sections meet perfectly.
Edo karakami paper began as fusuma paper, but with the decrease today of traditional Japanese houses, new ways of using this type of paper are being developed. Today, karakami can be used as wallpaper or on partition panels within in Western-style interiors to create a modern Japanese interior space.
Karakami on small
Edo karakami paper is also used to decorate small functional items.Ideas abound in the use of karakami papers thanks to their attractive designs.
Information provided by Tokyo Matsuya、Koizumi Yukio（Karagen・Koizumi Fusumagami Kakosho）
Photo by Minamono Tadayuki
Text written by Tanaka Atsuko
English Translation by Eddy Y. L. Chang
Edited by Melissa M. Rinne, Kyoto National Museum
Exhibition created by Yamamoto Masako（Research Fellow of Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS)）and Yamamura Saki, Kyoto Women's University Lifestyle Design Laboratory
Directed by Maezaki Shinya, Kyoto Women's University