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Karakami

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Papers imported from China were also much in vogue. Because they came from China, they were known as karakami or “paper from Cathay”. Karakami paper is made by first coating the paper with shell white (gubiki) and then printing designs on it with carved woodblocks using a shiny translucent mixture of mica and nikawa glue. The characteristic of the paper is that the printed patterns sparkle and seem to float on the page. This kind of paper was widely used in China during the Song dynasty (960-1279). At first, it was imported to Japan but over time Japanese papermakers began to produce their own. Karakami made in Japan is sometimes called wasei karakami, or, “Japan-made Chinese paper”.
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The blue paper you see here and the white paper and this one, too, are examples of karakami made in the 11th and 12th centuries, during the Heian period. These are all fragments cut from larger books. The Heian period was indeed a time of great popularity for this kind of paper. Because it is so expensive to make, it was used much less often during the Kamakura and Muromachi periods (ca. 1200-1570, a time of social unrest and frequent conflict). This example here is a 13th century (early-Kamakura) Buddhist text. The title area is made of karakami decorated with sparkling paint.
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As we saw earlier, Heian decorative styles became popular again in the Edo period, a time of peace and stability after centuries of strife. Here we have four examples of books made with karakami dating from this period. In this scroll here, the paper was first colored with gubiki (shell white coating) and then decorated with patterns by applying mica paint with wooden blocks in this example, too, the patterns are different on every page. This book here is also made with karakami, and this one too has the karakami patterns on it. These heavily decorated books were extremely popular in the 17th century.
As our last example of paper decorated using minerals we look at karakami (Chinese-style paper).
The word Karakami originally referred to paper imported from China (Kara = Cathay) but over time it came to indicate all paper treated with the gubiki technique and then decorated with printed patterns (using woodblock) using a mixture of mica and nikawa glue. Color can be added to both the shell white used in the gubiki method and to the mixture of mica and nikawa glue used for the patterns, so karakami can be made in a wide range of different color combinations.
Initially karakami was imported from China during the Song dynasty (960-1279), but by the Heian period it was also produced in Japan. Karakami paper made in Japan is sometimes called wasei karakami, or, “Japan-made karakami”. As with many other ancient techniques and methods, there was a revival of karakami in the Edo period (1603-1868) and a lot of books from the period make use of it.
Watch the video to see different examples of karakami from the Heian through Edo periods.

Books introduced in the video:

books on the table
If you’re interested in how Japanese book culture was influenced by China and Korea, you may be interested in this other course Sino-Japanese Interaction Through Rare Books by Keio University.
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The Art of Washi Paper in Japanese Rare Books

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