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Adding dye to Japanese paper

To make books more beautiful, Japanese bookmakers use a variety of methods, one of which is to add color to the paper itself. Let's explore.

This was done for a variety of reasons and using different methods.

In the video for this step, you’ll also see the paper coloured with paints made from minerals.

Main pigments

  • For yellows: ōbaku or Kihada (Phellodendron amurense) commonly called Amur Cork tree – used in the paper for sutras and religious texts. Its bitter flavour is thought to repel insects.
  • For browns: kakishibu (persimmon extract): produce a reddish-brown colour that gets more intense with repeated applications. When applied in generous amounts, it is thought to repel insects.
  • For browns: chōji , a tree in the family Myrtaceae, Syzygium aromaticum. Cloves are the aromatic flower buds of this tree. The liquid made from the boiled down dried bud is used for dyeing.
  • For blues: ai (indigo): it can be made darker through repeated dyeings.
  • For reds:benibana (safflower, Carthamus tinctorius): it’s also used for rouge. For dyeing, the flowers at the tip of the stem is also called suetsumuhana meaning picking a flower on the top edge.
  • For purples: Murasaki plant: Boraginaceae, perennial plants. The liquid made from their root is used for dyeing. Purple is recognized as a noble colour. But this colour fades away easily when exposed to UV rays.

These are just a few examples of dyeing. Paper dyeing technology has a parallel with cloth dyeing technology. You might want to learn about Japanese dyeing in general to get a better understanding of paper colouring.

Books introduced in the video

  1. Heike Monogatari
    Click to see the image and information
  2. Mottomo no sōshi, Kan’ei 11 (1634)
    Click to see the image and information
  3. Kanke Bunsō, early Edo period
    Click to see the image and information
  4. Shibi-inkycō
    Click to see the image and information
  5. Kindai shūka, Eishō 12 (1515)
    Click to see the image and information
  6. Henjō Hokkishō Rysōshū
    Click to see the image and information
  7. Gokanjo, Genwakanei
    Click to see the image and information

If you’d like to learn more about the art of Washi paper in Japanese rare books, check out the full online course from Keio University, below.

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The Art of Washi Paper in Japanese Rare Books

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