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This content is taken from the Keio University's online course, The Art of Washi Paper in Japanese Rare Books. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 3 seconds Please look here. This black pattern that seems to have been created by a wave is obtained using a technique called marbling (suminagashi). Like the colorful marbled paper produced in the West, this effect is also obtained by floating drops of ink in a vat, gently moving it to create patterns, and then transferring them onto the sheet. In Japan the use of this technique can be traced at least as far back as the 12th century during the Heian period (794-1185). This is a 17th century example and it is made using just black ink. By the 18th century, however—here you see that this cover has been decorated using this technique—other colors came to be used.

Skip to 0 minutes and 57 seconds As you can see, it was used for both the pages of the book and on the cover. This is suminagashi paper.

Suminagashi (marbling)

The last type of traditional coloring method we look at is marbling (suminagashi, literally “ink-spreading”). Watch the video to see examples.

Marbling consists in floating dots of ink on water and gently working them to create interesting patterns. As the last step, a sheet of paper is immersed in the solution so that the pattern is transferred onto the paper. Already in use in the Heian period, the method remained in use until the early-modern period (1600-1868). By the 18th century, black ink was often combined with other colors, such as blue, red or gold. The final effect is similar to the marbled papers produced by Western papermakers.

Please take a look at the “SEE ALSO” section at the bottom of the page for more examples.

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This video is from the free online course:

The Art of Washi Paper in Japanese Rare Books

Keio University