Archives for posts with tag: paper

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.


Karafuneya ceased their letterpress printing operations in 2009 and no longer retains any of their letterpress equipment (yes, I asked!). However, the gallery (also a shop) still carries a fine selection of their original products as well as other innovative paper goods from some of my favorite places in Japan, including the Origata Design Institute.

Most paper specialty shops in Kyoto focus on traditional washi and designs, but if you want a taste of contemporary paper crafts and design, Karafuneya is a good place to start.

I couldn’t resist these paper plates by Wasara. Using pulp from sustainable resources such as bamboo, Wasara has created a line of elegant disposable dishware for your dining pleasure. They’re so beautiful I don’t even know if I could bear using them. You do, after all, have to chuck it once you’re done eating. (I can’t imagine what washing would reduce them to — a worthy experiment?) However, it seems very appropriate for a culture that appreciates the beauty of fleeting and ephemeral things.

I also picked up some envelopes made with original Karafuneya washi as well as some postcards created back during their letterpress days.

Many of the products displayed at Karafuneya are produced by the company Kami no Kousakujo (かみの工作所). Their mission is to take a sheet of paper and turn it into as many wonderful things as possible. Justine and Matt from Upon a Fold (the blog is a great read for art and paper lovers) recently visited the Kami no Kousakujo factory in Tokyo, and you can learn more about the company and see photographs from their visit here.

Justine has also recently written up a list of great paper places to visit in Kyoto. You can check out her recommendations here, featuring shops such as Uragu and Karacho.