Edo patterned paper

Edo patterned paper Edo karakami

A fusion between the skills of Kyoto and the culture of Edo
Stylish paper created by exceptional artisans


What is Edo patterned paper ?

Edo karakami is a type of decorated traditional paper produced in the Bunkyo and Taito wards of Tokyo, as well as Matsudo, Chiba prefecture, and Tokigawa, Saitama prefecture. Designated as a traditional craft by the Japanese government in May 1999, the paper is mainly used for fusuma (sliding doors) and byobu (folding screens). This craft utilizes a variety of production techniques including a basic form of woodblock printing by karakami artisans, stencil printing by sarasa artisans, and sprinkled gold and silver dust by sunago artisans. Each artisan has unique specialist techniques to create an extensive range of patterns and designs. Early design motifs for traditional Japanese paper reflect the tastes and fashions of the samurai and merchant classes of Edo (present day Tokyo) such as chintz and lattice patterns, seasonal flowers, and patterns of items from daily life. While these patterns retain their popularity, there are more modern designs. Edo karakami is found in a wonderful array of colors and patterns, also appearing as wallpaper or across ceilings.


Edo karakami originated with craftsmen from Kyoto, who had moved to Edo in order to meet the increased demand. The techniques for this craft are thought to have two different origins. One is the gold, silver leaf, and gold powder decorations found on the Buddhist scriptures of the Nara (710-794) and Heian (794-1192) periods and the other is the decoration consisting of woodblock prints on paper that tanka (31 syllable poems) were written on during the Heian period. As the town of city began to prosper, demand had risen for karakami because middle class merchants used it for the sliding doors in their houses, and Kyoto-style karakami techniques gradually evolved to Edo's decorative preferences. Around 1853-1869 is when this craft came to be called Edo karakami.
In the 20th century, the Edo karakami industry suffered huge losses from the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the Great Tokyo Air Raids of 1945 as they resulted in the destruction of many woodblocks. In addition, due to its high cost and the difficulty of mass-production, this industry is at the mercy of the economy and struggled during times of recession. However, even in the hardest of times this craft was taught from generation to generation and is alive and well.

General Production Process

  1. Techniques used by woodblock artisans
  2. 1. Woodblock dyeing First, the printing block is coated with a paste and stamped onto traditional Japanese paper. The paste is made from a mixture ground mica powder, ground seashell powder, and plant based glue.
  3. 2. Brush dyeing For this step, there is coating with a brush and dyeing with other methods. For brush dyeing, dye is applied to a brush that has gaps between its bristles and a precise stripe pattern is painted. Also, there is screen painting and stand painting. For the other dyeing methods, complete dyeing is done by coating the entire paper with mica and pigment and the technique of tie dyeing is accomplished by painting a variety of colors with a brush that has been wet with water.
  4. 3. Rubbing the paper After painting the entire surface of the paper with undercoat, smooth finished paper that has been coated with mica is rubbed with the artisans's hands to add wrinkles and cracks.
  5. 4. Gold/silver leaf application Wheat starch glue is applied to the woodblock and transferred to the paper. Then, gold or silver flakes are placed and after the glue dries, any excess flakes are removed. Afterward, a sizing liquid made from a mixture of dissolved animal glue and alum is painted on the paper, the craft is complete.
  6. Techniques used by stencil printing artisans
  7. 1. Stencil dyeing The two major methods of stencil printing artisans are monochrome and multicolor stencil printing. A shibu-katagami stencil that has been stiffened with persimmon juice is placed on top of traditional Japanese paper and pigments or dye pressed through the stencil with a horse hair brush to bring out the pattern clearly.
  8. 2. Multicolor stencil printing Using the same basic technique as above, a second stencil and color is applied to the paper. At the most, five to seven different stencils may be used to repeatedly apply colors.
  9. 3. Relief effect This is a technique used to print family crests. A lot of pigment is applied with a wooden spatula so that the pattern stands out from the paper and is in high relief.
  10. 4. Gold/silver leaf application This is the same process as for woodblock artisans. However, for stencil artisans, thin paper stencils are used, instead of large and heavy woodblocks.
  11. Techniques used by gold/silver powder artisans
  12. 1. Using a bamboo tube Gold or silver powder is put in a bamboo tube with a fine copper wire mesh sprinkler and tapped or shaken over the surface of the paper.
  13. 2. Sprinkling flakes Varying sizes of gold or silver flakes are sprinkled by using a bamboo tube with threads stretched over the end. Some of the flake types are square cut, long cut strips, and hand-torn flakes.
  14. 3. Paint application Gold or silver paint is prepared by making the powder finer and mixing with a liquid glue. Only half of the brush bristles are dipped into the mix and then drawn across the paper, which is a unique feature of this technique.
  15. 4. Drawing pictures Traditional Japanese-style painting or landscapes are painted directly on the paper with the brush.
  16. 5. Pattern rubbing Powder is sprinkled or paint is applied to the traditional Japanese paper, which is placed on top of a carved woodblock. The surface of the paper is rubbed with a boar’s tusk to make the woodblock pattern transfer and give an embossed effect.

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