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Skip to 0 minutes and 3 seconds As we learned in Week 1, washi varies by source material and production method. In addition, traditional paper makers also applied color to the papers to make books more visually attractive. Here we have some examples of books with covers of different color. Various dyes, some vegetable based and others from minerals, were used for coloring. The most common color in traditional Japanese books is this brown here. This blue here is also very common. This brown is from the kakishibu, a tannin obtained from the fruit of the persimmon tree. The blue is from ai (indigo). This purple here is relatively rare and is obtained from the murasaki plant (Lithospermum erythrorhizon).

Skip to 1 minute and 16 seconds This black here is from ink while the red color of this cover comes from mercury. These are just some of the colors that traditional papermakers used to color paper. In the following Steps, I will introduce various paper-coloring techniques.

About the dyes

In order to make books more beautiful, Japanese bookmakers use a variety of methods, one of which is to add color to the paper itself. This was done for a variety of reasons, and using different methods.

Main pigments:

  • For yellows: ōbaku or Kihada (Phellodendron amurense) commonly called Amur Cork tree – used in paper for sutras and religious texts. Its bitter flavor is thought to repel insects.
  • For browns: kakishibu (persimmon extract): produce a reddish brown color that gets more intense with repeated applications. When applied in generous amounts, it is thought to repel insects.
  • For browns: chōji , a tree in the family Myrtaceae, Syzygium aromaticum. Cloves are the aromatic flower buds of this tree. The liquid made from the boiled down dried bud is used for dyeing.
  • For blues: ai (indigo): in can be made darker through repeated dyeings.
  • For reds:benibana (safflower, Carthamus tinctorius): it’s also used for rouge. For dyeing, the flowers at the tip of the stem, it is also called suetsumuhana meaning picking a flower on the top edge.
  • For purples: murasaki plant: Boraginaceae , perennial plants. Liquid made from their root is used for dyeing. The purple is recognized as a noble color. But this color fades away easily when exposed to UV rays.

These are just a few examples for dyeing. Paper dyeing technology has a paralles with the cloth dyeing technology. You might want to learn about Japanese dyeing in general to get a better understanding of paper coloring.

In the next few steps, let’s take a closer look at variety of dyeing technology and papers.

Going forward, we will look at various dying techniques. In the video for this step, you’ll also see the paper colored by paints made from minerals.

Books introduced in the video

book index

  1. Heike Monogatari
    Click to see the image and information
  2. Mottomo no sōshi, Kan’ei 11 (1634)
    Click to see the image and information
  3. Kanke Bunsō, early Edo period
    Click to see the image and information
  4. Shibi-inkycō
    Click to see the image and information
  5. Kindai shūka, Eishō 12 (1515)
    Click to see the image and information
  6. Henjō Hokkishō Rysōshū
    Click to see the image and information
  7. Gokanjo, Genwakanei
    Click to see the image and information

What are the main pigments in your area?

What kind of pigments are used in your area/region to color the paper or cloth? Please share your knowledge or findings in the comment area below.

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This video is from the free online course:

The Art of Washi Paper in Japanese Rare Books

Keio University