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Buddhist texts, which played an incredibly important role in the development of Japanese bookmaking, were traditionally written or printed on color paper. The most common color is this yellow paper here, which is obtained from the Amur cork tree (Phellodendron amurense), called kihada in Japanese. Its bitter taste was known to repel insects. Here we have an example of an 8th century Buddhist text. Buddhist sutras were often colored to represent the Buddhist Western Paradise. This example in the middle has purple paper, which was probably obtained from the roots of the murasaki plant (purple gromwell, Lithospermum erythrorhizon). Here we have an example of indigo paper made from the ai plant (Persicaria tinctorial,sometimes called “Japanese indigo”).
This is made by soaking the paper in a solution of the dye, a process that is called tsukezome (“dip-dyeing”) or hitashizome (“soak-dyeing”) in Japanese. First used in the Nara period, dyed paper for Buddhist texts continued to be common throughout the Heian period (794-1185). By the 17th century, in the Edo period, colored paper came to be used for secular books as well, such as this one. Here is another example.
Had books been made only to be read, there would be no need to use color. Clearly, it was to make books more beautiful and pleasing to the eye that Japanese bookmakers experimented with various types of color paper.







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古書から読み解く日本の文化: 和本を彩る和紙の世界

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