Skip to 0 minutes and 3 secondsPaper-decorating for bookmaking reached its full maturity in the 12th century. As much as I would have liked to use actual specimen from that period, I do not have access to originals here, so I will be using 17th-century replicas. In the 12th century, during the Heian period, several different techniques to join together different pieces of paper were used. For example, this sheet here is made of three different pieces of colored paper that were cut and joined together. This technique, which consists in connecting the pieces along a straight line, is called kiritsugi (“cut and join” technique). Moving on to this one, the different pieces of paper are joined along a curved line.

Skip to 0 minutes and 58 secondsIn this particular book, the front and back side are both made of different sheets joined together; this technique of joining fragments along a curved line is called “yaburitsugi” (“tear and join” technique). Finally, the most impressive technique of the three. In this kind of yaburitsugi, not two but several papers of different color are cut in a curved line and then layered in a slightly offset manner along the seam.This technique, which produces a gradation of colors resembling the slowly changing colors in the collar of a Heian jūnihitoe kimono (formal attire of Heian court ladies), is called kasanetsugi (“overlay and join”). Books of extraordinary beauty were made using this technique.

Skip to 1 minute and 50 secondsEven in the Heian period,this technique was not used frequently due to its complexity. During the Edo period(1603-1868), Heian-period books became extremely popular and were often imitated. The books we have here is an example; we can say it is an imitation or a replica of a Heian book. Going back to the yaburitsugi, the edges in Heian-period example were more roughly torn and look jagged and irregular, whereas in Edo period examples the lines are smooth and appear to have been cut using bladed tools. But even though they are not perfect replicas, these books convey all the admiration that Edo-period Japanese artists and craftsmen had for the styles of the Heian period.

Cut-and-Paste Techniques

The golden age of paper decoration in Japanese book history was the 12th century, in the final part of the Heian period. At this time, an enormous amount of wealth was held by a small elite who pursued beauty and splendor with no thought of expense.

Indeed, book decoration and political and economic history are closely interconnected. In this step, we look at various techniques involving the use of multiple pieces of paper to create the most opulent types of decorated paper in the 12th century. Based on the way the pieces are connected together, we can distinguish three basic types: kiritsugi (“cut and join”), yaburitsugi (“tear and join”), and kasanetsugi (“overlay and join”).

In the Kiritsugi (“cut and join”) technique, papers of different color and decoration pattern are cut in straight lines and then mounted together along the edge on card. It is the easiest technique of the three, and can sometimes be seen in books from the 17th century, a time when the culture of the Heian period (ca. 800-1200) was much admired and often imitated.

Example of Kiritsugi

Nishi Honganji-version Collections of the 36 Poets (The Collected Poems of Ōnakatomi Yoshinobu)

paper See wikipedia for more details
Kiritsugi by 36poets Collection Yoshinobu, 03:45, 7 April 2012, in Wikipedia.

The green part in the upper right corner of the page is joined to a piece of paper of different color in a simple straight line.

In the yaburitsugi (“tear and join”) technique, the seam between the different sheets is jagged as if the paper had been torn; the irregular outline where the different papers meet is its distinctive feature. The technique was often imitated in the 17th century, but as the edges were cut using bladed tools, the final effect is rather different from the Heian-period originals.

Example of yaburitsugi

Nishi Honganji-version Collections of the 36 Poets (The Collected Poems of Kiyohara Motosuke)

paper See wikipedia for more detail
Yaburitsugi by 36poets collection MOTOSUKE, 09:09, 9 March 2016, in Wikipedia.

The Kasanetsugi or “overlay” method is said to have derived from the yaburitsugi. Instead of using two sheets as in yaburitsugi, three or more sheets of colored paper are layered on top of each other, torn so as to obtain the same outline, and then pasted together in slightly offset layers. The effect resembles the multi-layered collar of a jūnihitoe (twelve layered kimono), the formal attire worn by Heian-period court ladies. Kasanetsugi is an advanced technique and is exceedingly rare, so rare that the Nishi Honganji-text of the Collections of the 36 Poets (see link) may be the only example in existence from the Heian period.

Example of kasanetsugi

Nishi Honganji-version Collections of the 36 Poets (The Collected Poems of Ōnakatomi Yoshinobu)

paper See wikipedia for more details
Kasanetsugi by 36poets collection MOTOSUKE, 09:09, 9 March 2016, in Wikipedia.

Around the edges of the dark brown paper in the bottom-center part of the page, many sheets of paper of slightly different color are layered in slightly offset position. The same effect is used for the upper edge of the red fragment at the center of the page. These are the places where the kasanetsugi technique is used.

Because old examples of these techniques are very rare, in the video we will look at 17th-century examples.

Books introduced in the video:

books on the table

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

The Art of Washi Paper in Japanese Rare Books

Keio University