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2022/01/11

Note: this is the third in our series of articles focusing on the fascinating traditional craft of Kyo-karakami and its place in modern life.

Studio visit to Maruni, Kyo-karakami maker

Kyo-karakami: a short history

Please tell us a little about your background. What in your personal life has influenced you to choose your career?

 My professional experience included working as a DTP planner and designer for a print company and as a magazine ad editor in an advertising agency, when in the middle of vocational training for web development I received a call from Hello Work [Employment Service Center operated by Japanese government] asking me if I was interested in becoming a craftsman. I had an interview and became one! It just so happens that all of my jobs are related to paper, which I find interesting. The reason why I chose this profession is because I was introduced to it and passed the interview. I also feel like it was a stroke of luck.

What was the biggest challenge that you encountered on your professional journey?

I think that the most difficult part of becoming a karakami craftsman was to grasp the feel of working with paper.

Depending on the humidity and the temperature of the day, the end result may be good or bad. It is necessary to remember the feel of good and bad work and constantly improve our techniques because we want to provide the best work possible.

What do you love about what you do?

As a craftsman mainly dealing with commissioned work, I don’t use my creativity much. But when I create something on occasion, the most important thing is to have fun.
I believe that if you don’t enjoy yourself while you’re creating something, your work won’t be able to bring joy to other people.

What are the sources of inspiration for your creative work?

As a craftsman mainly dealing with commissioned work, I don’t use my creativity much. But when I create something on occasion, the most important thing is to have fun.
I believe that if you don’t enjoy yourself while you’re creating something, your work won’t be able to bring joy to other people.

How have the events of the past couple of years affected your work and your industry?

Many commissions have been postponed because karakami paper is often used for the interior design stage of large architectural projects. Families no longer get together during the Obon and New Year holidays, so the replacement of sliding doors has become non-essential for some period of time.

What wishes and words of encouragement for 2022 would you offer to the readers of our blog?

I think the world is still going through a very hard period right now.The people who keep us informed, like the writers of this blog, give us something to look forward to when things return to normal. And I hope that those of you who are afraid to go outside for fear of infection will take an interest in the interior design!

Please tell us why would you recommend your work/products to craft and design lovers. What positive impact they can make on people’s lives?

I personally think that karakami paper is a difficult product to handle. Since it is painted with water-based pigments, it cannot be touched with wet hands, and since it is handmade, it is inevitably a high-cost product. However, it reminds us to take good care of things and make them last longer.  We are a company that deals in fusuma paper, and we would like to convey that fusuma is a Japanese door that is very much in line with the SDG [Sustainable Development Goals]. Although simple doors have become widespread, proper fusuma doors can have their paper, edges and knobs replaced or repaired. The fusuma paper of temples and other old places is usually replaced, and if it is treated with care, it can continue to be used for hundreds of years. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have your grandmother and grandchildren open and close the same fusuma doors as their ancestors of long ago?

If you plan to come to Kyoto and try your hand at the Kyo-karakami paper printing technique, book your experience here: Karakami atelier visit and printing workshops

Interview, translation & images by Anastasiya Bulkavets (ArigatoCreative.co)

2022/01/04

Happy New Year to our readers and to those who are planning to visit Kyoto!

So, we entered a new year. What kind of New Year’s Day do you have in your country?

In Japan, many people visit shrines and temples on the first three days of the New Year to pray for good health and happiness.

This is the time of the year when you can see many people dressed in their finest clothes. They also surround themselves with auspicious New Year’s ornaments, eat dishes that bring good fortune and play traditional games such as Hyakunin Isshu (playing cards featuring 100 famous classic poems) and Kyoto spinning tops to express their gratitude for being able to welcome the New Year with their families.

Did you know that many of the items used for the New Year’s celebration are Kyoto traditional crafts? Between them, you’ll find textiles (Kyo-yuzen dyeing and Nishijin weaving), Kagami-mochi made of Kitayama cedar, New Year’s decorations made of Mizuhiki decorative strings and Sanada-himo braids, Kyoto pottery dolls in form of Chinese Zodiac signs (Tiger for 2022), Osechi-ryori (Kyoto cuisine for the New Year’s), Kyoto sake offered to the Shinto gods, playing cards, Kai-awase shell games, etc.

New Year’s is a special day for everyone. In 2022, Kyoto Artisans Concierge will continue to serve as an intermediary between many people and traditional craftsmen, starting from the Kyoto Museum of Crafts and Design, where 74 items of local traditional crafts are displayed.
We sincerely hope that 2022 will be the year when we can freely interact with each other again!

Words : Yutaka Sato (Kyoto Museum of Crafts and Design)

Translation : Anastasiya Bulkavets (ArigatoCreative.co)

Images : Kyoto Museum of Crafts and Design

2021/12/28

Note: this is the second in our series of articles focusing on the fascinating traditional craft of Kyo-karakami and its place in modern life. Check the previous article here:

Studio visit to Maruni, Kyo-karakami maker

After our previous post about a visit to Maruni, you’re probably wondering about how exactly the karakami tradition was established in Japan.

The word “karakami” itself literally means “Chinese paper” due to the fact that this way of paper decoration originally came to Japan from Tang dynasty China during the Nara Period (8th century). It quickly became popular with the nobility at the Imperial court of Heian (present-day Kyoto). First used as a support for writing classic poetry, karakami paper was adapted for fusuma (sliding doors) and shoji (wooden lattice frame covered with paper) decoration.

The oldest karakami patterns reflect the aesthetics of aristocratic culture and include arabesque motifs, plant and flower designs, as well as water waves and clouds. The most popular motifs of the samurai era karakami appear to be geometrical patterns and pines – the designs that symbolize authority and austerity of military culture.

During the Edo Period (1603-1868), karakami was popularized and new centres of production have appeared in Edo (today’s Tokyo), answering its increase in demand by merchants and commoners. This new type of karakami was called Edo-karakami to distinguish it from Kyoto-style karakami and includes various additional techniques such as stencilled small pattern designs and powdered gold and silver decoration.

In the modern setting, karakami paper is still used for covering fusuma sliding doors in traditional Japanese interiors of private residences, tea houses and pavilions, temples and shrines, as well as wallpaper for Western-style interiors, as stationery and even as pieces of art for decorative purposes. All karakami paper sheets are created one by one by hand, so each sheet is unique and carries a human touch.

If you plan to come to Kyoto, you have a possibility of printing your own Kyo-karakami sheets which you’ll be able to use as wall art at home, or, at the very least, as a memory of an unforgettable encounter with one of the oldest Kyoto traditional crafts.

Book your experience here: Atelier visit & small-scale karakami printing workshop

Words & images by Anastasiya Bulkavets (ArigatoCreative.co)

2021/12/22

Note: this is the first in the series of articles focusing on the fascinating traditional craft of Kyo-karakami and its place in modern life.

 If you’ve ever visited a traditional-style house or a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, you had probably admired its sliding doors with delicate patterns.

 Karakami is the traditional decorative woodblock-printed paper used for fusuma, or Japanese sliding doors panels. Maruni is one of a very few companies left to still produce Kyoto-style karakami, and we’re very happy to offer a possibility to visit its printing studio where you will be introduced to the traditional techniques of karakami making and can even try your hand at paper printing.

 So while you’re still waiting for a chance to visit the studio yourselves, we stopped by to give you a glimpse of what your experience would be like.

 After hearing a brief story of how karakami tradition has developed in Japan (stay tuned for our next post for that), we became curious about tools that are used at Maruni for the traditional fusuma paper printing.

Apparently, the woodblocks for karakami are usually made of magnolia wood, because it’s soft, easy to sculpt and doesn’t wear much with time – in fact, the artisans of Maruni still use about 300 blocks that are more than 100 years old! Unfortunately, it is hard to find any craftsmen who can hand carve new printing blocks these days, so they are mainly created using laser machines.

As for the paper, Maruni uses Echizen Torinoko, washi paper produced in Fukui Prefecture. It is known for its strength, glossy finish and resistance to insects.

People who appreciate Japanese paper as much as we do will understand why we loved poking around the workshop, asking questions and printing our own karakami paper sheets, but it’s a story for another time!

In our next post, we will dive deeper into the history of karakami making and the reasons of its popularity in traditional Japanese interiors.

 If you plan to come to visit Maruni and try your hand at the Kyo-karakami paper printing technique, book your experience here: Atelier visit & small-scale karakami printing workshop

Words & images by Anastasiya Bulkavets (ArigatoCreative.co)

2021/12/14

Greetings from Kyoto and welcome to our blog!

Created by the Kyoto Museum of Crafts and Design, Kyoto Artisans Concierge offers a fabulous opportunity to visit local creative studios, meet skilled artisans and even step into their shoes by participating in craft workshops.

During these strangely slow times, we’ve been keeping in touch with the craftsmen, listening to their stories, looking for new ways to improve studio experiences to make them truly unforgettable for our visitors.

Also, we’ve been missing you, dear crafts and design lovers who aren’t able to come to Kyoto in person and meet local artisans due to travel restrictions and other reasons. That’s why we decided to bring Kyoto and stories about its amazing craftsmanship to you virtually, through this blog.

So what to expect? We’ll be sharing some insights into the fascinating world of Kyoto traditional crafts, as well as revisiting our favourite ateliers and interviewing the talented creatives we admire.

We hope you’ll discover and learn something new and enjoy our stories as much as we enjoyed creating them for you!

Words & images by Anastasiya Bulkavets (ArigatoCreative.co)