Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off your first 2 months of Unlimited Monthly. Start your subscription for just £29.99 £19.99. New subscribers only. T&Cs apply

Find out more


One distinctive characteristic of paper used in Japanese books is the abundant use of gold and silver. First, over here we have what was originally part of a sutra scroll made in the 12th century, in the Heian period. As you can see, very fine specks of gold leaf and silver leaf are applied to the surface of the paper. As you can see here, the gold and silver leaf decorations can take a variety of shapes. The ones cut in a straight line are known as kirihaku (small foil squares) and the rough uneven ones are known as momihaku (crumpled foil). The small granulated gold and silver is known as sunago (literally, “sand”), and the long, threadlike ones are known as noge (“tinsel,” lit.
“field hair”). You can see the variety of gold and silver leaf designs that were used to decorate paper. Next over here is a 14th-century scroll. It narrates the origins of a temple and the reasons why it was built. This is also very expensive paper decorated with gold and silver. You can see many examples of sunago, kirihaku and other designs that I just mentioned. On the reverse side as well, the paper is decorated with tiny silver kirihaku squares. Furthermore, although this is the end-paper portion (a sheet of paper pasted on the back side of the front cover), it is also decorated with gold and silver leaf in various shapes.
From early on, it was common to use these techniques to create elaborate patterns. Finally over here is a fragment of a book from around the 15th or 16th century. Here we have an example of kumogami, which we looked at in a previous Step. It is decorated with various shapes made of gold and silver leaf that were scattered on top of the sheet. From these examples, you can see how common it was to decorate books with gold and silver.





箔置紙は、金銀の箔を様々な形に加工して、糊を塗った紙に貼りつけたものです。 箔は形により切金(きりかね)・切箔(きりはく)・裂箔(さきはく)・揉箔(もみはく)・野毛(箔)(のげ(はく))等と呼ばれます。この内の一種類だけを用いたものもありますが、金銀のいくつかのものを組み合わせて装飾するのが一般的でした。



books on the table

This article is from the free online

古書から読み解く日本の文化: 和本を彩る和紙の世界

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now