Archives for category: Spotlight

Last week I went to Osaka to visit the Insatsu (Printing) Expo (印刷エキスポ) which, despite its name, is more than just about printing. It was also a showcase of papers and design. The Expo was at Paper Voice (ペーパーボイス), the gallery of Heiwa Paper (平和紙), and as such, I was not surprised to find that most of the items on display were made with papers by Heiwa Paper. They have an amazing selection of paper with various finishes, weights, and textures, and if you are in search of something other than washi (though they have a collection of that as well) it’s not a bad place to start.

The Expo was presented as a classroom. I loved the community blackboard where visitors could leave comments. And the iconic randoseru (ランドセル) reproduced in paper! Elementary school students are immediately identifiable by these backpacks. Usually only found in red or black, it was novel to see them in so many different colors and patterns. What kid wouldn’t want one of these?

And all of the visitors, including myself, found ourselves playing musical chairs as we moved from desk to desk to see what treasures lie within. It was a terrific idea. Not only is there a sense of discovery as you pull out the drawer underneath, there is a space for you to lay it out and a chair for your viewing comfort. Great use of an everyday object.

And true to its theme, there were hands on activities. This is the letterpress corner where you could print your own name tag.

Of all the great design I saw there, my favorite are these boxes. Instead of simply being a container for something precious, the box itself is precious, being both vessel and subject. These boxes were not made to hold objects — they were made to hold an experience.

The thing that really made the Insatsu Expo shine was its open invitation for visitors to touch and engage. It was more than just a showcase — the Expo offered an experience, a memorable encounter with creativity.

When most of us hear the word “moku hanga,” images of ukiyo-e prints float to mind. However, moku hanga simply means woodblock printing, and the actual printing techniques can vary.

During my trip to Kyoto, I came across karakami (唐紙) for the first time. Karakami is a type of decorative paper that is created with woodblock printing but in a manner very different from ukiyo-e prints. Having tried my hand at the ukiyo-e style of printing this spring at Paper Book Intensive, I was better able to appreciate the differences.

Ukiyo-e prints are usually pictorial, portraying a scene that is rich in layering and hues. Ukiyo-e uses water-based inks that are printed on damp paper, thus allowing the inks to further penetrate the fibers of the paper. The paper remains damp throughout the entire printing process.

Karakami is patterned paper that is traditionally used as wallpaper and to cover the sliding screens in Japanese homes, temples, and other structures. The paper is initially given a coat of color which becomes the background layer. After that has dried, a pattern is then applied over the base color. Karakami is printed with pigment that, instead of being absorbed into the paper, sits on top of the surface. When you run your fingers across the paper, you can actually feel the fine ridges that define the pattern.

There is still one shop in Kyoto, Karacho (唐長), that continues the practice of karakami. Some of the wood blocks they use are more than 200 years old. There’s a good article by designboom on Karacho and karakami (with lots of photos!) that provides an in depth look into this traditional craft.

I also visited Kamisoe (かみ添) where I met Ko Kado, the artist and proprietor. Kado-san is trained in the karakami tradition, and two years ago he branched out independently, continuing the practice of karakami but also experimenting with the technique. Kado-san uses both Japanese and Western motifs, and he sometimes creates his own designs for printing. He has a real interest in the components of the process and how tweaking the equation produces different results. The stationery products you find at Kamisoe are printed on paper created to Kado-san’s specifications, and everything is printed by hand.

There are few people who are keeping the tradition of karakami alive, and Kado-san is taking it a step further, breathing new life into an old technique.