Kanazawa gold leaves Photo:Ishikawa Prefecture Tourism League

Kanazawa gold leaves Kanazawa haku

Devoted to transmuting traditional materials
into dazzling beauty


What is Kanazawa gold leaves ?

Haku means metal leaf and Kanazawa Haku is gold leaf produced in Kanazawa City and its environs in Ishikawa Prefecture. The attractive feature of Kanazawa Haku is the dazzling and elegant radiance of gold produced by master craftsmen. It is hard to believe but a small piece of gold alloy, no bigger than a 10-yen coin (23 mm diameter), will be repeatedly hammered and evenly thinned to cover one traditional tatami mat (about 1.6 m2) without losing its brilliance; to produce such high quality and lustrous gold leaf takes many years of devoted practice to learn the art.
Kanazawa Haku is used in large quantities on the historic buildings of Japan such as the Nikko Toshogu Shrine, and are also often applied to the traditional craftwork of Kanazawa, such as urushi utensils, family Buddhist altars and fittings, and textiles and Kutani ware. Today Kanazawa Haku burnishes many modern crafts and is widely used for interior goods, fashion items, and the like to bring a touch of golden brightness to our daily life.
From the historic viewpoint, in some eras, it was difficult to engage in leaf manufacturing as an occupation because of restrictions imposed by the Shogunate or Government. Even so, as many say, the climate of Kanazawa with much rain and snow, and fine quality water are all ideal for working with gold leaf; in Kanazawa, gold stretches well, giving a lustrous finish to the gold leaf.


Kanazawa gold leaves - History Photo: Ishikawa Prefecture Tourism League

Scholars believe that the history of Suzuka Sumi began in the early Heian period when resin harvested from the pines of the Suzuka Mountains was burnt and the resulting soot mixed with nikawa and shaped into sumi sticks. Suzuka is blessed with good pine trees and weak alkaline water, both essential to make quality sumi. In the Edo period, every ruling feudal family had their own family crest, which would be drawn in sumi on formal dress; kamishimo for men and komon for women. This naturally gave rise to the demand for quality sumi. From around this time, the nationwide spread of private elementary schools in temples also increased the demand for sumi.
To satisfy the demand, production methods were improved and coupled with the protection of the Tokugawa family and the Kishu domain the industry flourished; the traditional manufacturing techniques are still practiced today. A variety of different sumi are produced such as yuenboku made from lampblack known for its glossy deep and pure black, while shouenboku made from pine soot has a range of ink colors from dense black to bluish gray; there are also special sumi such as irozumi color inksticks.

General Production Process

Kanazawa gold leaves - General Production Process Photo:Kanazawa city

  1. 1. Gold Alloy Gold leaf is not simply made by directly beating and extending pure gold metal; firstly a mix of pure gold with a minute quantity of silver and copper is placed in a hearth-bowl and heated to about 1,300ºC, stirred with a carbon rod, and the resulting alloy poured into a metal crucible to cool.
  2. 2. Nobe-Kin (Cutting the Gold Alloy) The gold alloy is rolled to form a strip known as a nobe, which is cut with a daikiri (cutting tool) into small square pieces with sides of about 6 cm (nobe-kin).
  3. 3. Preparation with Paper There are five steps to take a nobe-kin through to shiagari-zumi-uchi (final intermediate gold sheet). Firstly, nobe-kin are placed on zumi-uchi Japanese paper measuring 12.6 cm square; about 200 sheets are stacked up. Then, about 30 sheets of furuya paper are placed above and below the stack, before covering the whole with bag leather and fastening tightly with milk leather.
  4. 4. Zumi-Uchi (Beating Nobe-Kin) The basic principle is to beat and thin a nobe-kin until it is the same size as a zumi-uchi paper sheet. At each beating the size of the paper is increased, starting from a 12.6 cm square and onto aragane measuring 16.8 cm square; a stack of about 200 aragane sheets are sandwiched between furuya paper as in the step before, and the nobe-kin is beaten and extended to the full-size of the paper, and then cut into quarters with sides of about 6 cm, and transferred and beaten on paper this time measuring 18.3 cm. The nobe-kin is further transferred to the oh-ju size of paper measuring 21.6 cm square before trimming with scissors. Then, the nobe-kin is transferred to agari paper, and further beaten to give uchi-agari-zumi sheets.
  5. 5. Shitate (Cutting to Size) About 30 sheets of uchi-agari-zumi are piled up and folded by using a 20.1 cm square pattern, and cut along the folds with a tailor’s knife. The cut sheets are shiagari-uwa-zumi (final intermediate gold metal); sometimes called uwa-zumi or zumi, which are folded into three, packed in a zumi box and delivered to the haku-ya (leaf makers). Up until this step the gold has been worked by artisans known as uwazumi-ya, and from this point onward the process is taken up by the haku-ya.
  6. 6. Selection of Paper True gold leaf is made by further beating the shiagari-uwa-zumi sheets. The quality of specially processed haku-uchi (leaf beating) paper is important as it affects the spread of the gold and the luster of the final product.
  7. 7. Zumi-no-Hiki-Ire (Inserting into the Beating Paper) In this process, the shiagari-uwa-zumi measuring about 3/1,000 mm is finished to a leaf as thin as about 1/10,000 or 2/10,000 mm. A 21 cm square shiagari-uwa-zumi is cut into 11 or 12 small koma pieces by zumi-kiri-bashi (cutting-chopsticks). The cut koma is inserted between hiromono-cho (stacked paper sheets) and left temporarily before being transferred to beating paper.
  8. 8. Beating Koma sheets are piled up and megami (female paper) are added to the top and bottom of the stack, and shiro-buta (white covers) are added to the top and bottom, and supporting leather is applied and tightened by winding followed by pasting. Then, the whole top and bottom of the stack is covered by bag leather and held firmly by pasted milk leather. The whole stack is then mechanically beaten at a constant 700 strokes per minute, ensuring rapid finishing and uniform product quality.
  9. 9. Drawing Process The leaf extended by machine is transferred and beaten to the size of the main paper. The finished leaf is then transferred to hiromono-cho (stacked paper sheets) for the final assessment; if the leaf makes the grade it is temporarily stored in the hiromono-hako (box) until the gold leaf is cut to size.
  10. 10. Transfer of Leaves Leaves kept in the hiromono-cho are cut to one of four prescribed sizes, namely 10.9 cm square, 12.7 cm square, 15.8 cm square, and 21.2 cm square, using a cutting frame and leather board, and then placed on kiri-gami special Japanese paper.

Where to Buy & More Information

Kanazawa Yasue Gold Leaf Museum

Kanazawa Yasue Gold Leaf Museum Photo:Ishikawa Prefecture Tourism League

See other Industrial art materials and tools

See items made in Ishikawa