heian paper


"Washi," Japanese paper, is well known for its beautiful quality and attracts many people, even in foreign countries. But, very few people know about Tsugigami, highly ornamental Japanese paper technique. It combines various kind of paper in various ways to compose a picturesque sheet.

Tsugigami (paper joining design and technique of Japanese paper) existed in the middle of the Heian Period when the art and culture of that period were at their zenith. But unfortunately, we have only one example left of this artistic Tsugigami---The Nishi Honganji Volumes: An Anthology of the Thirty-Six Poets. The thirty-two original volumes and five recopied ones were designated as National Treasures in 1951.

The anthology is supposed to have been copied in the Gen'ei Era of the Heian period, early in the twelfth century. The excellence of the calligraphy and the luxurious beauty of the designs on the paper have made this anthology one of the outstanding artistic monuments of the Heian Period, almost beyond comparison. From the style of calligraphy, it is surmised that the poems were copied by some twenty noted calligraphers of that period. None of the names of the ca11igraphers is mentioned in any volumes.

Besides the beauty of the calligraphy, what distinguishes this anthology the most is the beauty of the designs. All kinds of excellent paper such as Karakami (patterned paper) and Somegami (dyed paper) known to have been produced in those times were used. Karakami had various patterns and Somegami had different characteristics such as thick or thin, smooth or rough, glossy or not, as well as different colors. During the paper-making stage, such patterns as Tobigumo and Uchigumo could be produced, and in the dyeing stage, one could make Suminagashi patterns.

Tsugigami technique was the most remarkable way in which various kinds of paper were put together and made into a picturesque sheet. There were three different ways of paper joining which are now called Kiritsugi(cut-joining),Yaburitsugi (tear-joining) and Kasanetsugi(fold-joining). In the 6rst, two kinds of paper were cut in a straight line and joined. In Yaburitsugi, a sheet of paper was torn off by hand without using scissors or a knife, so that the edge was uneven. It was then pasted onto another sheet of different color and characteristic. In Kasanetsugi, five sheets of paper with a gradual shading of colors were so folded together that each sheet made a stripe on the page. on some exquisite Tsugigami sheets, gold or silver leaf was applied, and tiny pieces of mica were also used. To add gorgeousness, beautiful designs of butterflies, branches, birds, dragonflies, flowers, and grass were painted on some sheets using gold and silver.

It is believed that the anthology was copied for the purpose of submitting it to the retired Emperor Goshirakawa in pious life. Each calligrapher sought the cooperation of artists and artisans of various schools in order to enhance the effect of his or her calligraphy in the volumes. Many court ladies contributed to the making of those volumes. The zenith of culture, the highest synthetic art, and the boundless pursuit of beauty of the Heian Period all have been focused in the volumes. Their remarkably delicate sense of beauty and insatiable aesthetic attitude such a collection of paper cannot be found anywhere else.

Historical research has shown that this anthology was presented from Emperor Go Nara to priest Shonyo of Honganji Temple in 1549 and has been treasured at the temple ever since. (The temple divided later into Nishi and Higashi Honganji.)

Therefore, to us who live in the present time, Tsugigami seems a phantom technique just like a fireworks display which disappears while we are enchanted by it. In 1896, Oguchi Taiji discovered the volumes in the archives of the Nishi Honganji Temple and since then they have attracted the attention of ardent art lovers.

But in general, even now, after one century since the discovery, it is difficult to understand their true value. This is because The Nishi Honganji Volumes are cherished treasures and there is only a slight possibility of seeing them. Even if Tsugigami is shown in a museum, it is difficult to inspect Tsugigami through a glazed exhibit case. The beauty of Tsugigami is so subtle that we have to enjoy by holding it in our hands in a quiet room, otherwise it is impossible to grasp its delicate flavor.

Such ornamental sheets give us different impressions of distance or of angle, whether the shape is pasted on another piece of paper or the paper from which the shape was torn out of pasted on another piece of paper. I think that those who are once impressed by the Tsugigami will be captivated by its beauty for life.

Once in the Showa Era, a famous artisan Tanaka Shimbi, studied the Tsugigami technique for about ten years and succeeded in reviving it beautifully. After the death of Tanaka, some artisans have been following this method.

Until the Second World War, there were some wealthy art lovers who patronized those artisans, but nowadays, since the circumstances have changed, I thought that the Tsugigami technique might disappear. Therefore, I persuaded some friends who were charmed by the Tsugigami and we began to follow the traditional method of Tsugigami. And now, I dare say that we have acquired almost enough technique as the court ladies in the Heian Period had. Now, we are calling our paper joining Ocho Tsugigami (Heian or Royal paper joining).

Our Tsugigami designs are of three kinds---a sheet for writing letters, a sheet using letters as a part of the design, and a sheet without any letters. To write letters on a sheet of Tsugigami, graceful cursive calligraphy will be suitable and, in general, large letters on dark color or small letters on light color will be the best. A more effective way is to write letters on the joint. For this purpose, the design of a sheet should be simple. A sheet without any letters should be complex and elaborate.

We are enjoying the Tsugigami technique and applying it to plates, folding screens,dolls and accesories.

I hope this web site will be visited as widely as possible so that Tsugigami will gain inpopularity.