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Japanese Paper Decoration in the 12th Century

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.

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.

Japanese Paper Decoration in the 12th Century

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”).

Kiritsugi – Cut and Paste

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.

Yaburitsugi – Tear and Join

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:

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