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Skip to 0 minutes and 2 seconds Continuing on, I will now discuss kumogami (also known as uchigumorigami) which can be said to be the king of all Japanese decorated papers. First, a layer of white paper is made and then, on the top part, a layer of dyed pulp is applied on it. Thus, once the sheet of white paper is prepared, another layer of blue paper is applied on sections of it. Here, it is a little difficult to see the colors here, but in this area, an extra layer of purple pulp was added in the vat during the papermaking process. The original sheet would have been larger but it was cut down to this size for use.

Skip to 0 minutes and 51 seconds Starting from the Muromachi period,around the end of the 14th century, kumogami started

Skip to 1 minute and 3 seconds to be used as the formal paper for tanzaku paper strips on which waka poets inscribed their poems at formal waka sessions. An enormous quantity of these were made up until the Edo period, but kumogami itself was in use already in the late-Heian period, in the 11th and 12th centuries, and was widely used in books. Here is a page of a 13th-century book. You can see that both the top and bottom parts are purple, so a purple-only kumogami was used for this book. The book here dates from around the late 14th century

Skip to 1 minute and 51 seconds and has a cover made with kumogami. The front cover is blue but the back cover uses purple. Here is another example, a book from circa the 16th century. While this book here has the colored parts at the top and bottom, in this one here the indigo and the purple are on the sides, on the left and the right. Continuing on, this is a book we have already looked at, the title strip (daisen) where the title appears is made of kumogami. So kumogami was used for a variety of different purposes.

Skip to 2 minutes and 41 seconds Furthermore, depending on the time period, the design of the wave-like pattern and the way the color is applied vary slightly, which means that if one memorizes these differences it is easier to tell when the book was made from the kumogami. One thing to remember is that this purple color is delicate to ultraviolet rays and the color can easily become faded and difficult to see, so one must be careful. Furthermore, there are examples of kumogami made by applying the purple to the paper with a brush not during the sheet-forming process. Additionally, over time, this example here is from the 18th century, kumogami was made using colors other than indigo and purple such as green, or this orangey color here.


From here on, we will look at various techniques to decorate the paper at the sheet-forming stage and look at books that make use of them.

We start with kumogami (“cloud-patterned paper”) which can be said to be the king of all Japanese decorated writing papers.

Also known as uchigumori and uchigumorigami (“cloudy paper”), kumogami is made by layering dyed paper materials in the top and bottom sections of finished white paper. The parts of the paper with color have therefore a multi-layer structure. The standard color combination was indigo and purple, but there are also examples with only indigo or only purple. Starting in the 18th century, in the Edo period, various other colors such as green, brown and gray also came to be used.

Kumogami has been in use continuously since the Heian period not only as writing paper, but also to make book covers and title slips (daisen), which were pasted on the front cover. As of the early Muromachi period, in the late 14th century, kumogami became the standard paper to use at waka gatherings for tanzaku, narrow strips of card on which poets inscribed the poems that they composed.

It was standard practice to use indigo in the top section and purple in the bottom section of the tanzaku strip. The explanation that is usually given is that the indigo represents the sky and the purple represents the earth, so the opposite configuration (purple at the top and indigo at the bottom) would represent a disruption of the natural order (such as natural disasters). Another theory is that since people at the time believed that a purple cloud would come from paradise to retrieve people at the time of their death and take them to Amida’s paradise (the Pure Land), users would associate purple at the top with death and misfortune. That is why tanzaku strips inscribed with poems lamenting someone’s death will sometimes have purple at the top instead of the bottom. Sometimes, purple was placed at the top to match the text to be inscribed. For instance, purple at the top was used for poems on or mentioning wisteria (fuji), Japanese bush clover (hagi), peonies, and other purple flowers. However, tanzaku strips with purple at the top are rare. Interestingly, these conventions do not seem to have applied when kumogami was used in books.

Now, please watch the video to view some books made with the beautiful kumogami.

Books introduced in the video:

books on the table

Another example

Here is another interesting book, a collection of tanzaku.

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This video is from the free online course:

The Art of Washi Paper in Japanese Rare Books

Keio University